Thursday, June 20, 2013

Accessible Architecture or pretty Jersey buildings...what are awards for ?

Here we return to an old theme because progress and improvement are so slow.
How is it possible that some buildings - especially important public buildings - are still so inaccessible in 2013?

This short video looks at the Planning and Environment HQ at South Hill which is where the minimum standards for new or altered buildings are laid down and administered. Yet this building achieves the worst standard of any government public building in Jersey.
It is simply scandalous of course.

But it is not just that disabled people find it impossible or at the very least, difficult to get past the front door but the facilities within are totally inadequate too. Thus, there is not even a hearing loop on the reception desk....and we must remember that disability can strike at the employees in this building just as much as the general public who might want to consult a planner or other building expert. There is no accessible toilet in this building for the use of employees or visitors - so the whole "employment of disabled persons" policy of the States of Jersey is reduced to a farce by such  omissions.

We spoke with the chief Building Inspector but he would not be recorded which is a great pity - especially since he kept referring us to "others" with supposed responsibility for access.

We have asked the Minister for an interview and invited any architects to come forward too to show how Jersey is facing up to the challenges of an ageing population and  so many injured people surviving accidents and illnesses with "disabilities".
Good design is not just about the way a building "looks"

It is no longer enough to accept  only the minimum standards as laid down for new buildings. Architects and designers should be exceeding the basic and striving for much higher aspirations in  ALL classes of buildings. Important buildings and public places need to be updated and modernised so that discrimination against those with disbilities or other differences is constantly challenged.

In a few years we are promised that anti-discrimination laws will apply in Jersey so that it will become illegal to provide services to the public from buildings that fail to achieve universal standards. This building like so many others will be fit only for demolition.

So here we are again with another Jersey Architecture Week being organised to look at the best of design in buildings - but who is really setting the pace on functional design in this Island? Will any architect or designer respond to this invitation and show the public the high standards of universal accessibility that can or should be achieved in the 21st century?


  1. I shouldn't laugh, but what else can you do?

  2. The most significant advances in achieving equality for disabled people have happened in countries which either have a history of active civil rights movements, USA, UK, for instance, or in countries whose cultures are traditionally more inclusive, such as Sweden and Denmark.

    Tom, your video and article do a good job of highlighting one example of inequality for disabled people, but they fail to show the bigger picture.

    What about disadvantage in employment and in accessing goods and services? What about the government intervention which is internationally recognised as being essential for disabled people in order for us to achieve greater independence and social inclusion?

    Individual complaint rarely changes anything - disabled people, and the plethora of well-meaning organisations which represent us, need to work together to achieve meaningful change.

    The Channel Island's does have a burning human rights issue - disabilism, but, this issue remains unseen and unheard, smouldering behind a firewall, faced on the one side with ignorance and on the other with helplessness and resignation.

    Disabled people (there are probably 15,000 islanders in Jersey who meet the UN definition) are not a homogeneous, easily identifiable group of people who naturally gravitate or congregate.

    The natural state of many disable islanders is isolation, segregation, immobility and dependence- that said, once the common element of discrimination and prejudice is recognised, it will become easier for disabled people and the organisations which represent them, to get organised and to start to change attitudes.

    95% of the world's population live in countries whose governments have signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 99.5% of the English speaking world (2 billion people living in 79 jurisdictions) are protected from disability discrimination either by statute or by constitution.

    Jersey and Guernsey are behind most of the rest of the world in recognising and protecting the rights of disabled people and, through poor advice and lack of evidence, the States of Jersey have recently decided they would put disability discrimination legislation at the back of the queue.

    It's time the voices of the 15,000 (and their estimated 3,500 carers) were heard.