25 April 2017 | Herpreet Kaur Grewal
The government must act to lead the charge to improve access and inclusion in the built environment, says the Women and Equalities Committee in a major report.
It says the Department for Communities and Local Government must be held responsible for making this happen by changing public procurement, fiscal initiatives and transparently modelling best practice to bring about a coherent and transparent strategy for the full range of works to build in such inclusiveness.
The report highlights the challenges disabled people face in accessing homes, buildings and public spaces. Many workplaces are inaccessible, there is very little choice of where to live and the public spaces through which people need to move can be prohibitively excluding. The study says these factors constitute an unacceptable diminution of quality of life and equality.
Disabling features of the built environment do not only pose problems for people with physical impairments, but also for people who have less visible disabilities including mental health and neurological conditions, or who are neuro-diverse (such as people with autism).
The report proposes a range of practical policy solutions. Above all, the committee calls for better engagement with disabled people to ensure that they have a meaningful input - nationally and locally - in creating inclusive buildings and environments.
The Equality Act 2010 requires reasonable adjustments to be made so that disabled people are not excluded from workplaces, public buildings, and places that serve the public. However, the act is not having the kind of impact that it was expected to have - the government has left change to be achieved through a model of enforcement that relies on litigation by private individuals.
Committee chair Maria Miller MP said: "Our current environment was not created overnight and will not be mended overnight - but those with the influence to do so have had over 20 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 first set out the standards expected of them. Disabled people have the right to participate in all parts of life under the law; this is undermined if the built environment locks them out. Our report sets out a realistic but challenging agenda that, if adopted, can give this issue a priority and deliver the changes that we all need."