Inclusive or barrier free architecture or environment, is one which enables and supports persons across all disabilities, to access and independently participate in all the functions, without any form of assistance.
However, many public spaces in India still do not have elevators or designated spaces for wheelchairs or specific signboards for the disabled. Not only does this come in the way of free and independent movement, but also, takes a toll on their morale.
Requirements of an inclusive design
In order to ensure that people with disabilities (PWDs) feel like a part of the community, it is imperative to look at inclusive architecture more seriously. The all-encompassing approach is all about constructing buildings and spaces in a manner in which every single member of the society can be accommodated and supported.
Whether it is a school, healthcare facility or park, every design decision has the ability to eliminate a section of end-users unknowingly. Hence, certain details and demographic factors need to be kept in mind to make all the citizens comfortable.
Kavita Murugkar, professor at Dr Bhanuben Nanavati College Of Architecture in Pune, says that there is an urgent need to create inclusive architecture that is accessible by all user groups.
Murugkar notes, “Inclusive architecture is a paradigm shift from the conventional design approach which generally satisfies the need of only the able-bodied, leaving behind many sections of the society such as PWDs, elderly, pregnant women, temporary impaired and children.”
Arman Ali, executive director at National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCEPDP), explains the importance of having inclusive architecture.
Ali says, “Having inclusive architecture is a fundamental right, not a privilege or a luxury for anybody. Anything that is not designed for everyone or as per the universal design, will cease to exist in the times to come.”
Ali also gives a relatable ongoing example to explain this. “During the ongoing pandemic, most people are working from their homes. This remote working scenario was earlier conceptualized for people with disabilities or the ones facing temporary health issues. But, since remote working caters to a large section of working individuals, it has become successful. The same is the case with design. If your design is inclusive, it can be used by everyone when the need arises”, says Ali.
Some notable examples of inclusiveness in design
Some interventions that have done justice to this include reserving seats for specially abled citizens, placing ramps at public places, buses and other vehicles.
For example, the St Stephen’s Steps in Bandra, in Mumbai is an inclusive, pedestrian-only space that’s open with moving ramps and stairs.
Alan Abraham from Abraham John Architects, was the architect of the St. Stephen’s Steps.
Abraham explains, “The criss-crossed ramps allow access to a pram or a person in a wheelchair. It basically allows wheels to go up and down, so you have universal access through and through.”
In addition to this example, Delhi Metro has also laid special emphasis on accessibility for all in their design. Being one of the most crowded modes of transport in the country, it has interventions ranging from special elevators, extra wide flap gates, tactile pathways, accessible toilets, readily available wheelchairs and proper signage, among others.
Ali says, “Currently, commercial and private properties like offices, hotels and malls often abide by the basic guidelines for creating an accessible environment. However, there are very few examples that are completely accessible, for example, the Museum of Art & Photography (MAP) in Bengaluru, focuses on providing a seamless experience for people with disabilities."
Is inclusiveness only restricted to disabled friendly aspects?
However, accessibility and creating disabled free aspects in design, are not the only targeted user groups in an inclusive design. Children and infants also require inclusive architecture.
Thus, the Urban 95 challenge helmed by Bernard Van Leer Foundation is presently working towards making cities more accessible for children. The objective behind this project is to build urban localities that can respond to the needs of infants, toddlers and caregivers by sketching appropriate plans.
This initiative is being implemented in Pune, Udaipur and Bhubaneswar where creating walkable, mixed use neighbourhoods with lively green public spaces is underway. Besides this, there is a lot of effort being put into creating healthy environments for children with safe AQI levels, low noise pollution and affordable transport routes.
Inclusive architecture involves quite a few financial aspects too. In a developing country like India, a large percentage of the population is below the poverty line. Thus, architects, designers as well as the government ought to cater to the needs of the financially distraught.
Inclusion starts with providing three basic necessities, ‘roti, kapda and makaan’, which means ‘food, clothing and shelter’. The Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana (PMAY mission) was launched by the Government of India in 2015 for the same purpose. It is now working towards ensuring housing for all citizens by the year 2022. However, there is still a lot to be done. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been slowing things down.
Other factors like religion, ethnicity, language, gender, sexual orientation, mental health and education also play an important role in ensuring comfort and convenience for all.
Has India done enough in this space?
According to Ali, the conception of an inclusive design in our country is skewed.
Ali says, “Providing a ramp does not imply the architecture is disabled friendly. Ramp is just another alternative, a substitute for a staircase. There are multiple facets that need to be taken into account. Are the washrooms and corridors accessible, are the information directories readable in Braille, are PWDs able to navigate around or are there any restrictions?”
However, in the general sense, things are improving for the better in India. Inclusiveness in architecture is still at an evolving stage in India. The need of the hour is strongly integrating barrier free designs into the curriculum for architecture students. In addition, having more discussions on this topic among the general population, will create greater awareness towards having an inclusive society.
On one hand, while there might be a section of the people having a sympathetic and charitable approach towards people with disabilities, on the other side there are some steps in the right direction. However, there is a lot more that needs to be done.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about inclusiveness in architecture: