Report of the Second International Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments: Renewal of Inner Cities, Prague

This portion of the report of the Second International Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments: Renewal of Inner Cities held in Prague in 1987, includes: a table of contents with links to individual presentations; an introduction of the history and future directions of CIB W84 (the working commission) by Sven Thiberg the seminar Coordinator and Adolf D. Ratzka, the Associate Coordinator; a note on language used; the opening address by Dr. Rudolf Hegenbart; and an introduction to the themes of the seminar by Adolf D. Ratzka. Internet publication URL:

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Report of the Second International Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments: Renewal of Inner Cities
Prague, October 15-17, 1987

Download the Prague proceedings as a PDF file (420 KB)

Table of contents


Part I
Poem by Pavel Benes.
Preface by the CIB W84 Coordinators.
Editor’s Note.
Presentation of the Organizers.
Official Opening by Dr. Rudolf Hegenbart.
Introduction to the Seminar Themes by Dr. Adolf D. Ratzka.
Part II
Introduction to the Seminar Discussions by Prof. Sven Thiberg.
Summaries of Workshops 1 to 6.
CIB W84’s Future Direction.
List of Invited Papers.

The Old House

Poem by Pavel Benes

The old worn house
Deteriorating gradually
Has finished to serve.
Away with it,
Who cares,
Time to scrap it!
New houses must be built.
New successors come,
Thousands of houses! An army of houses!

Time consumes the house like a cake.
Spring showers quench its thirst.
The walls cry,
Raising their cracked bodies to the sky.
They want to live, carry the roof,
Hear the sounds of
Happy babies,
Of arguing parents,
The joy of first successes
And of hushed love cries.

The old worn house
Has been forgotten.
Mice only, the patient listeners,
Listen patiently to its story.
Trees and shrubs, the green grave diggers
Weave a crypt of twigs and branches. 


Accessibility of the built environment for old and disabled citizens is a relatively new field for research and development which is illustrated by the fact that this area was recognized only recently as an independent subject within CIB. In many countries today consumers put increasing demands on legislation and standardization to safeguard accessibility of the built environment as a basic human and civil right. This development points out a rising need for information, training and continued education for the planning and building professions and requires more intensive research and development efforts.

The United Nations International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 and the United Nations International Year of Shelter for the Homeless in 1987 have amply demonstrated the need for incorporating accessibility requirements at an early stage in the planning process regardless of a particular country’s development stage. The United Nations Expert Seminar in the evaluation of the midpoint of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons in Stockholm in August 1987 placed the highest priority on the need for equalization of opportunities of disabled persons where accessibility of the built environment is one of the most basic requirements. In this work the decisive role of disabled persons and their organizations was emphasized in the discussion of research and development needs, research strategy, results and implementation.

In 1983 CIB, the International Building Research and Documentation Council, established a Working Commission in the disability area. Professor Sven Thiberg was appointed Coordinator of the Working Commission which received the name "Building Concept for the Handicapped". The Commission’s secretariat was placed with the Department of Building Function Analysis, School of Architecture, The Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. Initial funding was provided by the the Swedish National Council for Building Research.

CIB W84 aims can be summarized in three points:

to raise the general level of expertise of and to stimulate interest in accessibility issues among the groups who influence shape and role of the physical environment,

to contribute to R&D and international exchange within well defined areas of strategic importance that up to now have been neglected and are suitable for international exchange of experiences,

to strengthen contacts, exchange and cooperation on a regional level by utilizing the benefits inherent in cultural and linguistic congruence.

The Working Commission’s first Expert Seminar took place in Stockholm in April 1984. Among the outcomes of the Seminar were recommendations and priorities for the Commis-sion’s future work. At the meeting CIB W84 changed its name to ’Building Non-Handicap-ping Environments’. The Seminar’s proceedings are published in Report of the International Expert Seminar ’Building Concept for the Handicapped’ in Stockholm, April 10-12, 1984, The Royal Institute of Technology, Department of Building Function Analysis, Stockholm.

The present document consists of the proceedings of the second Expert Seminar organized by CIB W84 in Prague on October 15-17, 1987 under the theme "Renewal of Inner Cities". This area had received highest priority at the 1984 Expert Seminar in Stockholm. Over 140 experts from 25 countries participated in the Prague Seminar presenting 40 papers. 30 of the participants were persons with disabilities. At the Seminar the newly formed CIB W84 Program Committee convened for the first time.
The Prague Seminar would not have been possible without our hosts, the Federal Committee, Union of Disabled People in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic and its resourceful, dedicated and highly competent elected officers and staff. We express our gratitude and warmest appreciation especially to Ing Ales Chytka, CSc. who prepared the ground for the meeting and had the main responsibility for its successful organization.

It is with this stimulating background of growing interest, expectations and trust that CIB W84 is planning its future work. To utilize and build upon this good will requires great professional responsibility and commitment to ’Building Non-Handicapping Environments’ on the part of the whole CIB W84 community of researchers, educators, planners, architects, builders and, most importantly, disabled people and their national and international organizations.

Sven Thiberg

Adolf D. Ratzka
Associate Coordinator 

Editor’s Note

First a comment on language. In the present documentation expressions such as "invalids", "handicapped", "cripple" or "patients" "people suffering from", "afflicted with" have been replaced by "persons with disabilities" or "consumers". "Cripple" is associated with disfigured beggars, "in-valid" with Latin origins literally means "worthless". "Handicapped" implies disadvantaged and, according to some sources, is derived from "hand-in-cap" and refers to beggars. Thus, everyday language depicts persons with disabilities as helpless, suffering victims dependent on the charitable instincts of others for their very survival.

Language both reveals and influences attitudes. Some disabled persons use these derogatory terms on purpose in order to highlight general attitudes and to point to the systemic discrimination that people with disabilities are exposed to. I chose to eliminate these denigrating expressions, since people cast in such negative images have great difficulties in defending their right to equal opportunities including accessibility in the built environment.

At the Seminar more papers and prepared statements were presented than were anticipated and more than could be included in the proceedings. The criteria for publishing were not easily arrived at and are certainly open to discussion. Papers were selected on the basis of quality and general interest. Presentations which did not address renewal of inner cities were not included.

Accessibility and the renewal of inner cities is a relatively new issue. Yet in many parts of the world where it has always been taken for granted that people with disabilities do not participate in the community, it is still not an issue at all. The resolutions adopted by the meeting reflect these realities. In the future work of CIB W84 it might be useful to refer to the resolutions again in order to make sure that all participants understand and share the same commitment to equal rights for all citizens and to avoid that future meetings have to establish this platform over and over again and, instead, can proceed directly to the means of how to guarantee equal rights to citizens with disabilities.

Adolf D. Ratzka 

Organized by 
CIB, the International Council for Building Research, Studies and Documentation, Working Commission W84 in cooperation with the Royal Institute of Technology, Department of Building Function Analysis, Stockholm and the Federal Committee, Union of Disabled People of the Socialist Czechoslovak Republic, Prague

sponsored by 
the Swedish National Council for Building Research, Stockholm, the Voluntary Fund for the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons, Vienna and the Bureau for Action in Favour of Disabled Persons, Commission of the European Communities, Brussels 

Presentation of the Organizers

CIB is the abbreviation of the French title of the International Council for Building Research, Studies and Documentation. CIB’s purpose is to facilitate and develop international cooperation in building, housing and planning research, studies and documentation, covering not only the technical but also the economic and social aspects of building and the related environment. CIB with its over 100 Working Commissions works through Congresses, Symposia and Colloquia. Working Commission W84 "Building Non-Handicapping Environments was founded in 1984.

The Union of Disabled People in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic is an organization of persons with all types of disability. The Union engages in social rehabilitation, owns and operates Braille printing presses, tape libraries, recreation centers and the manufacturing companies META and INTEGRA for providing job opportunities for 5Ý000 severely disabled persons and developing and producing assistive devices. The Union with over 200Ý000 members is the official voice and advocate of all disabled persons in the country. The Union closely cooperates with state authorities but is not controlled by them.

The Department of Building Function Analysis studies the relationship between man, built environment and society. The original focus has shifted from the definition of spatial and other basic functional user requirements to more complex aspects of the use of buildings and urban environments including decision processes in planning, building and management as well as housing in developing countries. The aim is to provide data and arguments to enable environmental designers and users to advocate users’ interests in the planning process and to widen the public debate in cultural, economic and political terms. 

CIB W84 Secretariat:
Coordinator Professor Sven Thiberg
Associate Coordinator Adolf D. Ratzka, Ph.D.
Secretary Mai Gard de Cáceres

Dept. of Building Function Analysis
The Royal Institute of Technology
100 44 Stockholm, Sweden 

Opening address

Dr. Rudolf Hegenbart

Ladies and gentlemen, comrades, dear friends,
On behalf of the Government of the Czech Socialist Republic and myself I welcome you to this Seminar on ’Building Non-Handicapping Environments in the renewal of inner cities.

This is a special topic for several reasons. For one, depending on the definition used, between 8 and 15 per cent of the population are disabled - a powerful group in sociological and economic terms. Further, efforts on the part of the authorities and the Union of Disabled People to eliminate architectural barriers are not only directed at persons with disabilities but also at old persons, children, pregnant women and other persons with impaired mobility. The needs of these groups have been articulated and put forth by the Union of Disabled People. The Government of the Czech Socialist Republic knows and deeply appreciates the work of the Union.

Our society’s concern for people with disabilities is not limited to the elimination of architectural barriers. The CSSR government is engaged in monitoring the incidence of disability in the population and its causes, in running rehabilitation centers, in re-training disabled workers and in improving education and vocational rehabilitation of disabled children and youth.

Czechoslovakia is facing difficult problems, problems that have to do with changes in our economic system, the further development of our production system, the protection of the environment and future economic growth, as emphasized at the 17th Communist Party Congress. We need great enthusiasm, optimism, will power and respect for life in order to solve these problems. I stress these attributes because people with disabilities use them all the time. It is my sincere wish that these properties that are so crucial to successful problem solving will influence this meeting and its results, results which contribute to creating conditions for a rich and beautiful life, a life worth living for all. 

Introduction to the Themes of the Seminar

Adolf D. Ratzka

The United Nations in their ’World Program of Action Concerning Disabled Persons’ define handicap as "a function of the relationship between disabled persons and their environments. It occurs when they encounter cultural, physical or social barriers which prevent their access to the various systems of society that are available to other citizens." Equalization of opportunities then means "the process through which the general system of society, such as the physical and cultural environment, housing and transportation, social and health services, educational and work opportunities, cultural and social life, including sports and recreational facilities, are made accessible to all."

This language makes it clear that handicap is not a medical or technical problem, but a political problem. 
It is a political problem, because disabled people face systemic barriers which limit their opportunities for equality and full participation.

It is a political problem because in all countries disabled people as a group are worse off than the general population in terms of education, work opportunities, income and standard of living. As a disenfranchized group we are in the same situation as other minorities such as underprivileged ethnic and racial groups.

Disability is a political problem because different priorities and a different allocation of existing resources could eliminate most of these barriers.

Disability is a political problem because disabled people the world over are struggling to gain self-determination and the right to speak for themselves on all issues which are important to them.

We have come here to this seminar to consult with each other and to exchange experiences on how some of the physical barriers can be eliminated which today prevent our older and disabled citizens from full participation and equality in their communities. In this effort all professions have to unite: government officials, planners and architects, sociologists, economists and psychologists, teachers and researchers, and all those who have a concern for the built environment and its impact on its users. Above all we need disabled people and their organizations, since their expertise in this area matters most. This has also been recognized by the recent United Nations Expert Seminar on the Midterm Evaluation of the United Nations Decade of Disabled Persons. The United Nations meeting recommended that "in recognition of the fact that they have personal experience in the disability field, disabled people should participate in and should be represented at all United Nations expert group meetings on disability and all United Nations sponsored meetings at the regional and national levels".

During the Seminar we will approach our subject on several levels. We will discuss how the institutional framework such as existing legislation, accessibility standards and their enforcement, financing and subsidy instruments influence the outcome of reconstruction and renovation of inner cities for older and disabled persons. Many countries have taken important steps to eliminate or reduce barriers to full participation. Legislation has in many cases been enacted to guarantee to disabled people the rights to schooling, employment and access to community facilities, to remove cultural and physical barriers and to proscribe discrimination against disabled persons.

We will present technological innovations used in reconstruction and renovation of buildings in the form of more efficient materials, methods, and technical solutions that can improve older and disabled persons’ ability to live in the community and stay outside of institutions.

We will discuss the criteria and methodology needed to guide us in designing a built environment that is truly accessible for all - not just for the minority of young adults without small children whom our present cities seem to be built for.

For many individuals with disabilities accessible environments have to be supplemented by personal assistance services in order to enable them to live and work independently in the community. The challenge here lies in designing organizational solutions for such services which do not carry institutional traits but foster self-direction and independence and allow the same choices of residence and life-style that the general population enjoys.

In planning the Seminar we were surprised by the strong interest in accessibility issues on the part of disabled leaders, planners and architects from developing countries. In these countries accelerating rates of urbanization, advances in health care, increasing populations of older and disabled persons and the rising influence of organizations of people with disabilities are creating a growing awareness of accessibility issues. In order to accommodate this interest we added a workshop on accessibility in the Third World. Despite differences in economic resources and technical solutions between industrialized and developing countries there are strong similarities such as the low priority assigned to disability issues by governments and the general public, the tendencies towards segregating disabled persons through special solutions and institutions as well as the lack of consumer input in planning decisions. When it comes to disability rights and the requirements for equality and full participation for older and disabled citizens all countries seem more or less underdeveloped.

The man-made environment of today is the result of a multitude of incremental decisions of the past, decisions which reflect the social and political priorities at each point in time. Often we are told that the reason why our cities are largely inaccessible is because they are so old. Is it really old age itself or is it the fact that the needs of disabled people have been neglected in the past? For centuries we were not considered part of our communities. For centuries those of us who were allowed to survive were put up in asylums and kept in subhuman conditions. Even today many of us are incarcerated in institutions, shut off from ordinary life, robbed of opportunities to engage in education, meaningful work and cultural and political life. Even today planners and politicians in many countries build segregated housing facilities for people with disabilities and will proudly show these ghettoes to foreign visitors. Even today city planners will construct one accessible housing complex or shopping street and use this as an alibi for leaving the rest of the city inaccessible. In Stockholm, Sweden, for example, over 95% of the housing stock is inaccessible to people who cannot climb one or more steps. And Stockholm is probably one of the better places. When you get home, look around and you will see how the physical environment segregates and excludes citizens with disabilities from active participation in all aspects of life. Apartheid is rampant - not only in South Africa but in most countries on this globe.

People with disabilities are used to being told that it would be nice to have accessible cities, but we cannot afford it. As one of the seminar participants puts it in his paper, inaccessible environments are less humane but cheaper. This attitude is widespread and reflects a very narrow and short-term definition of costs and benefits. For one, accessible new construction may not cost that much more. In Sweden, in new residential construction the additional cost of accessibility measures has been found to be less than one per cent on the average. On the other hand, once a structure is accessible it will remain so and yield benefits throughout its existence. These benefits include savings to the individual and the public in the form of fewer accidents and less need for institutions, since individuals who acquire a disability will not be forced to move to special residential care facilities. In a recent study I found that, if all such costs and benefits are considered, it is even economical to retrofit old housing structures with elevators in housing with as few as three floors in height and only nine apartments per elevator

Further, it is difficult to accept any economic argument when it is obvious that most countries can ’afford’ the armament race and similar disability-producing investments. The technological sophistication, resources and manpower presently invested by many nations in developing more efficient ways to kill and maim make the solutions presented in this Seminar to improve the accessibility of older and disabled persons appear like bicycle technology.

Finally, the cost issue is not relevant when it comes to human rights. To continue with the South African parallel, would it be acceptable to abolish Apartheid only when it ceases to be profitable for the white minority?

Disabled people cannot single-handedly change and reconstruct the built environment. We need allies in this effort, allies whom we can sensitize to our needs, who recognize that we are experts on matters concerning disability and who are ready to utilize this expertise in planning. This seminar, hopefully, can contribute to the formation of such alliances towards providing older and disabled people with the means to live and work in the community as equal citizens at their own terms in order to translate their right for self-determination into reality.


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