I have a dream...

Accessibility to public transport and the Facilities for Disabled persons, which are set out in the National Building Regulations are topics which are again receiving attention. But are the authorities getting it right?

I have a dream...
“If you aint gotta dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?” - Bernstein

Since it’s the end of the year, I’d like to summarise a few issues which are very topical to this subject, and also encapsulate short term goals for us in the beloved country.

The big news just now is the recapitalisation of the taxi industry, and this reminds me what a critical thing transport is to accessibility. I have no idea what all the political complications of this are, but it must bring into focus how important it is that it be suitable for the broad range of people.

A Short Term Strategic Framework on Accessible Transport (Version 4) published in April 2003 clearly set out its objective: “The objective of the strategy is to improve access to transport for disabled persons, in a manner that promotes integration into the mainstream of public transport.” And further “... promote seamless and hassle-free travelchain for disabled travellers.”

And all this under legislation directives, which ask for this to be done within five years! It all sounds as if attitudes are right and definitely in line with universal design principles. Transport is one of the key stumbling blocks to the integration of disabled people into society and the workplace, and many wealthy countries also find that it is really difficult to get the general public to accept mainstreaming as the civilised approach.

We are familiar with the ‘dropped kerbs’ at road crossings. Durban has been particularly good at incorporating these into the city. Incidentally when they were first brought into the public domain by wheelchair users, the vision impaired sector reacted. Vision impaired people used to rely on knowing when they reached a junction between a pavement and a road by being alerted by a kerb; now it would be completely seamless. The two sectors got together and devised the raised bubble pattern on the dropped kerb, so that it could fulfil both functions.

What I’m really getting to is the ‘raised kerb’. I was delighted when I first heard of it, but disappointed in that it is not promoted in the transport industry, here or in Europe. I think so much work is going into the changes required to the vehicles, that this has been neglected. What appeals to me is that the public transport need not do gymnastics to kneel, or have folding out ramps, or lifts.

My next thoughts are with the revamping of the ‘deemed to satisfy’ parts of the SABS 0400, now to be called SANS10400. (National Building Regulations). This is the non-statutory section, but nevertheless will have an influence over the built environment.

The final draft was issued on 17 September 2004. It has now become a much wordier document and I think entrenches the separateness of Disabled people; even the title says so. There are two charts which are set out as guidelines for achieving access with which I don’t agree. The one is for ramps, and the other for heights of lettering on signs at various distances.

I did some in-depth study on this subject, and came across a chart in a book published for use by the different transport authorities in Europe called “COST 335, Passengers’ Accessibility of Heavy Rail Systems”. It is such a nice rule of thumb that I think everyone should use it. This formula is for size of lettering, but there are also many other factors such as font, case, tonal and colour contrast and thickness of letter which apply, but at least for designers knowing the correct size is a good start to choosing the positioning.

The crusading continues!

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