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letters Give us good buildings, not fancy bits of kit

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I would agree with Paul Finch's (aj 22.7.99) that add-on facilities, tacked on to the building by the designer in mindless fulfilment of regulations is not the right way to provide economically for people with impaired mobility. Designing the route to and through the building, and the facilities within it so that the widest possible spectrum of the public can use them, is.

Currently we design for fit younger adults, not too tall, not too small. Anyone over 6 foot 2 inches, or under 5 foot 4 inches (all of us at some point in our lives) or trying to cope with children, will tell you exactly how disabling our environment is.

We should stop thinking of disabled people solely as wheelchair users, an unfortunate minority: we must stop labelling people with excuses that locate the problem in them ('the disabled', 'the elderly'), thus saving us the trouble of considering them. One in eight people are registered disabled, and when we consider older people, children, people of different sizes, asthmatics - the list goes on - we begin to see that the ergonomic and fitness 'standard' for which we design is actually the minority. Introducing a sort of portable 'kit' (for each person who does not fit our model of a normal human being) to enable them to interact successfully with the environment, is mad logic; it's like asking every tall man to carry a kitchen worktop-raiser, or every small boy to carry a pedestal to allow him to use urinals.

As architects we hold the power to aid or hinder the social interaction and employment prospects of all members of our society. Surely it is not beyond our wit to design flexible, adjustable facilities for use by everyone. It is, after all, a shame to spend so much time creating a wonderful sequence of spaces for building users to experience, then to ruin it all with last- minute, bolt-on fixings at additional expense - and then to require 12 per cent of us to take a different route.

My personal aspiration is that one day it will be equally unacceptable to require wheelchair users or those pushing a pram to use the side entrance, as it is to require the same of coloured people or women.

Heather Chapple, Disabled Persons Housing Service

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