The last few months I have been made several presentations: in May in George, July in Bloemfontein and Durban, and in August at the Architects’ Conference in Durban. All were on Universal Design.
In Bloemfontein I was given a reasonable amount of time, but at the others I had my time cut out trying to get to the essence of the matter in the allotted time. In Durban at the architects’ conference it was only 25 minutes. It is probably quite good to try to analyse the issue in as few words as possible, but I don’t feel like doing that again. My inclusion in a presentation to the Department of Education in July was really very interesting.
The title of the conference was Inclusive Education. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has been slowly being approved by the majority of countries.
Interestingly England, America and Australia are countries that haven’t been able to do so. England only signed the convention in May 2009 and the main stumbling blocks to their signing were the parts relating to Education. Australia had a problem with the immigration clause, but have now signed in July 2009.
The education sector, even here, are grappling with the thought of all learners being included, as opposed to just integrated.
To them integrated means just sitting in the class; being inclusive means everyone being taught in the same school. It is an intricate problem, but I know that our education sector has taken it on board.
My input concentrated on the fact that the Department of Public Works, with the architects appointed to execute the building works, complicate this even further. People with disabilities are frivolously excluded by the buildings themselves being inaccessible. There is no excuse for this, as exercises in the comparative costs of vertical circulation show that steps are probably more expensive than ramps or two-stop lifts! In addition, many accidents that occur at schools happen on steps. It is ridiculous and sad that architects are still participating in making buildings which are inaccessible for places of learning. Of course there is more to universal access than simply not having steps. Like induction loops, and good insulation producing low reverberation environments, and appropriate lighting for vision impaired people and hearing loss people. Of course here we also expect to have teachers with disabilities having no barriers to working in ordinary classrooms.
Universal design asks for no special needs, so that everyone can be part of the mainstream. In addition it’s not just a question of substituting ramps or lifts for steps: the conceptual design of schools should be with universal access in mind, taking advantage of natural changes of levels of the sites, instead of just flattening the site, and building a ‘school’.
Even the prestigious high school where the conference was held is extremely inaccessible in this sense!
Another aspect of inclusive education is that the able bodied people associated with these schools become automatically sensitised to life in an integrated society. They also seem to welcome the opportunity of helping people who can’t manage the environment without thinking of it as a chore.
But it is a reflection on us professionals that this should be happening in schools where an education is what should be main thrust. Allowing the person with an impairment to be independent is part of our human rights. Teaching children that persons with disabilities need help is not my idea of integration.Many education department buildings already exist. Various changes are inevitably made to school and university buildings, such as additions and revamps and the changes needed for accessibility could be built into the funding set aside for this. All new buildings though should have universal access incorporated.The snagging (listing of defects) for the Soccer Stadium in Durban will be done this week. The report originally done in 2007 has been reviewed, and it will be interesting to see how much of this has been heeded. It is disappointing to realize that the architects themselves have no understanding of the issue of accessibility for everyone here, and have approached it as a special needs requirement.
This was a golden opportunity to integrate all facilities, and get it right. Let’s see.