Pesky Passages

My daughter is a great shopper...

She’s a small size, clothes wise, and so is not always lucky with what she wants. The set-up as far as clothes go is that the average sized person has a huge range available. I don’t know the statistics of the number of people who fall outside of average, but I’m sure it’s more than 50%.

Some larger and some smaller.
If the average size is a size10 then sizes 12 and 8 will also be stocked. It could be a larger average range by stocking sizes 6 and 14. Smaller people can still go to the Children’s’ section, and larger people the Men’s section, unless you’re a man. Then you’re stuck.

It seems to me that built environments are quite similar to this. All buildings suit the average sized, able-bodied person. Quite a large number suit the bigger person, but mostly the out-of-the-ordinary person has to make do. And they get so used to this that they do not fuss, fearing a personal insult. But this is a far bigger issue than clothes. After all, you could make your own clothes or adjust existing clothes if it is so bad, and customise your own house if you like, but this doesn’t apply to public places.

That is the big issue here.
It’s not a question of “shall we?” or “shan’t we?” I’ve had several queries recently from people who would like their public facilities to be ‘wheelchair friendly’. These same people do not realise that it isn’t optional. It has to be done. It is difficult to enforce this part of the Constitution. Each of the small issues hardly seems worth the trouble, but together they are really painful for disabled people. It is hoped that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to access of public buildings will penetrate the psyche of the people.

I don’t suppose my original metaphorical comparison with the clothing industry stands up in this context. It would be horrible if all clothes were to fit all people (a sari is a pretty good universal design solution!). My point is that the range of sizes stocked should be broader. Given the competitive nature of that industry, I’m sure they have calculated what range of sizes is the most efficient for sales; but maybe they haven’t?

The public in general has not considered universal design solutions for their buildings, and maybe it is just as traditional to only stock the range of average sizes, as it is to have grand staircase entrances to buildings!

Recently I’ve looked at an upper-end house in Kloof, with lots of spacious accommodation, but only a 900mm wide passage to the bedrooms. This traditional size for the width of a bedroom passage has become standard practice flowing from a boom in the industry in the seventies and eighties when ‘spec’ houses were just the business.

In order to add a small area to the bedrooms on either side, bedrooms became smaller too, and the passage could thus be trimmed to 900mm. Now that people are better off and have larger houses, the bedrooms have become bigger, but the passage has stayed the same narrow 900mm bottleneck. The passage is a nightmare for moving furniture, and for a wheelchair-user to turn into a bedroom, or for evacuating a person in a stretcher if need be. The architectural detailing has been spoiled too, as there is no clear space for architraves.

Most of my writings are criticisms, but not intentionally. On 14 September 2007 the final draft (for comment) of the Amendments to the National Building Regulations, was published in the Government Gazette. All Parts have been amended, Part S has been retained and amended in a few small ways. The buildings exempted from complying have been reduced, and in S2, the amendment to section(c) reads:
“There shall be a means of access suitable for use by people with disabilities, from the main and ancillary approaches of the building to the ground storey; via the main entrance, and any secondary entrance;”
This then ties in with the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000. It has been difficult to promote dignified and civilised access into buildings, until now.

“It is not the name you are called that matters, but the name you answer to.”

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