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DDA will test the maturity of the profession

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How can architects ensure that they comply with the final part of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), due to come into force in 2004?

Judging by last week's conference organised by the Employers'Forum on Disability and the AJ (page 82), the answer is decidedly vague. The rule of thumb seems to be that they have to be nice, grown-up, considerate people who exercise a 'reasonable attitude'when considering the needs of the physically impaired.The Act recognises the difficulty of imposing a uniform approach on a wide variety of building projects, and acknowledges the fact that being dictatorial about, say, minimum dimensions and access provision is simply not realistic when so many projects involve existing buildings. The provision of certain services at ground level, for example, could be a reasonable alternative to installing a lift. The important thing is that the architect will be able to prove that they have given the issue of accessibility an appropriate level of thought.

What a relief: official recognition that the tick-box approach makes little sense in the complex world of architecture, with the flattering implication that the architectural profession is sufficiently mature and considerate to make decisions on its own. But is this necessarily the case?

On this week's letters page, Tim Lucas of Braintree District Council suggests that, in the past 50 years, architects have not been giving due consideration to access, even in instances where it might reasonably be assumed to be high on the agenda - in the design of housing for the elderly, for example.

Hopefully, the profession's failings on this count have been due to ignorance, rather than laziness or indifference. In which case, the Act's most important role is raising awareness, giving architects and clients the necessary information to enable them to find creative solutions. By encouraging project-specific solutions, a non-prescriptive approach should enrich the built environment and, ultimately, improve the lot of the physically impaired. It is also an opportunity for architects to show their worth, by rising to the challenge with enthusiasm and creativity.

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