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Letters Repeat after me: Access regs are for people

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The Architects' Journal welcomes your letters, which should preferably be typed double-spaced. Please address them to the editor at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4GB, fax them on 0171 505 6701, or e-mail them to Victorian@construct.emap.co.uk to arrive

Your rather mild and fairly reasonable editorial questioning access legislation (aj 22.7.99) has opened a reactionary Pandora's box. Terry Farrell wheels out (sic) the old chestnut of why cannot a wheelchair be developed that can climb stairs or act like a vtol aircraft (see my cartoon from aj 28.10.87). Yes, that would really let architects off the hook and stop a 'small minority' 'handicapping' their wonderful designs, as well as stigmatising their drivers even more than the crude wheelchair does. Maybe all building users should be provided with such Mekon-style devices, leaving architects free to design ever more arcane deconstructed fantasies.

Jo Robot is clearly enraged by the 'aggressive' campaigning by less able- bodied people for their rights and yearns for the 'sensible' late 60s (whenever was that?) when architects were free to play games with arbitrary changes of level. I am sure that people with a disability will be devastated to learn that Ms Robot's sympathies have 'drained away', presumably down that threshold slot you have to provide for level access.

Of course this is not really cumbersome legislation, but the fact that architects are trained to think in terms of abstract concepts rather than the needs of a diverse range of people; and when they go out into practice and the two conflict, they blame the people. When accessibility for all was left to architects and clients they did little, arguing that it was too expensive or specialised; so, legislation was enacted. Access legislation, like the fire regulations and now health and safety, may be bureaucratic and inflexible but at least it is about the needs and protection of people to exercise their rights to move about buildings and not get burnt alive or injured. It has unfortunately concentrated on the wheelchair because most people can adjust to bad design: the pregnant parent with two infants and a shopping bag will somehow struggle to get up those stairs to the wc. The wheelchair user, however, is trapped by unthinking architecture.

One must keep on repeating the mantra that inclusive, accessible, safe design is not about providing for a minority, but is about considering people as individuals. A difficult agenda, but who ever said that good design was easy?

Louis Hellman, London W3

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