Stockholm, Sweden, April 10-12, 1984
A report by Hanne Weiss-Lindencrona, Swedish Ministry of Housing and Physical Planning
In connection with the United Nations Year of Disabled Persons in 1981, the concept of "full participation and equality" was launched as an objective for policies for the disabled. This concept is well in line with the objectives of Swedish policies for the disabled in the seventies and eighties.
Swedish policies for disabled persons are based on the principle that the situation of the disabled should be improved mainly by the adaptation of society and not primarily through measures related to the individual.
This is also an assertion of the view that the "problem" is mainly related to the environment and not to the individual. The disease or injury a person suffers from has resulted in a functional limitation. The extent to which this will be a handicap depends on the environment. This approach is in line with the WHO definition.
It also means that disability issues should not be given special treatment. The needs of the disabled must be integrated in assessments, proposals, etc. from the outset, and must not be inserted at a later stage.
The Adaptation of the Physical Environment
With the approach outlined above, it is obvious that in the first place it is the environment which has to be adapted to people’s possibilities of using it.
The adaptation of the physical environment to people with various functional limitations is also an important step towards enabling many people to live independently rather than in some form of institution.
Amendments made to the Building Ordinance in the sixties and seventies have stipulated that premises open to the public, workplaces and, finally, homes have to be designed to be accessible to people with impaired mobility and orientation capacity. These regulations stipulate general accessibility. Naturally, they cannot be as far-reaching as special solutions, partly because different individuals have partly different and conflicting requirements. Of course, the intention has also been to identify a reasonable level of costs for adaptations. As a result, individual adaptations must be made to the generally accessible environment to meet the needs of some people. Special grants are therefore available for the individual adaptation of homes and workplaces.
Building in Sweden is chiefly regulated in the Building Act and the Building Ordinance. The Building Act contains regulations concerning the planning of building development. The Building Ordinance contains regulations on the design of buildings and the supervision of building works. The requirements in the Building Act and the Building Ordinance apply to all building regardless of category of owner, form of tenure, etc.
According to the Building Ordinance, dwellings for permanent use, premises open to the public and workplaces should be designed so that they are accessible to, and can be used by, people with impaired mobility or orientation capacity. However, lifts are not required in two-story residential buildings and in residential buildings containing two dwellings at most.
For dwellings on several floors the Swedish Building Code specifies that certain facilities should be located on the entrance floor. The idea is that people confined to wheelchairs should be able to use such dwellings despite the fact that only the entrance floor is accessible. The Building Ordinance does not contain any requirements concerning accessibility in leisure homes.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, premises open to the public and workplaces have to be designed to be accessible to the disabled. For workplaces the municipal Building Committee can grant exemptions if the nature of the activity or the character of the work is such that the workplace cannot be used by disabled employees.
The requirements in the Building Ordinance also include the adaptation of paths from the street, etc., to the building entrance. The municipal Building Committees can also grant exemptions from requirements for accessibility to single-family homes on account of the nature of the terrain. The Building Ordinance does not give authority to set requirements concerning the adaptation of streets, parks and recreational areas to the disabled.
On the authority of the Building Ordinance more detailed regulations concerning how buildings should be designed to comply with the Ordinance have been drafted; they are issued in the Swedish Building Code, and are based on the minimum requirement that dwellings and premises should be accessible to unassisted wheelchair users. The user should have good manoeuvring ability and be able to use a manually propelled wheelchair or a small electric one. This is a relatively good way of meeting the needs of most people with impaired mobility. As yet, not enough is known about the needs of other groups of disabled persons, such as people with impaired vision or hearing and people with allergies. As a result the regulations may have to be supplemented in some respects.
As a result of the regulations in the Building Ordinance, the accessibility standard of dwellings built in recent years is relatively good. This has given the disabled greater freedom to choose between different types of homes and housing areas.
In recent years, however, dwellings which are not accessible to wheelchair users have also been built, such as apartments on the upper floor of two-story buildings. Sometimes single-family houses are built with a difference between the external ground and entrance floor levels which is bridged by steps. It should, however, not be so large that these houses cannot be fitted with ramps.
As regards public premises and workplaces built or substantially altered in recent years, the requirements in the Building Ordinance have generally resulted in good accessibility.
In principle, new construction regulations apply to renovation. The municipal Building Committee may, however, make an assessment of how reasonable it is to apply them in specific cases. As a result of high costs, technical constraints and attention to cultural, historical or environmental values, therefore, reasonable requirements concerning adaptation for the disabled may not be met. This applies primarily to the installation of lifts in three and four story buildings, where costs and technical constraints may give rise to problems.
Terminal buildings for public transport have been considered to be so important for the opportunities for the disabled to take part in community life that parliament has decided they should be adapted to the needs of the disabled even if there is no other reason for altering them.
This is a more stringent requirement than for other buildings, where adaptation to the disabled and other measures can only be stipulated when the property owner takes the initiative to alteration work.
As a rule, no special loans or grants are available to meet the additional costs occasioned by the accessibility requirements. New construction and major alterations are generally financed with state housing loans. In principle, the costs of lifts and other measures are included in the loan value for the project. Some special loans and grants have been introduced to permit the individual adaptation of homes and workplaces or to stimulate measures which increase accessibility in certain types of premises and buildings.
Housing Adaptation Grants.
These grants are available for measures in or in connection with a dwelling to enable a disabled person to use the dwelling in an appropriate way. The grants can also be awarded for measures related to rehabilitation or functional training, or measures which make it possible to use functional aids financed by the medical services. These grants are not means-tested.
Common measures include the adaptation of bathrooms, toilets and kitchens, the removal of door sills and the replacement of floor materials
In some cases improvement loans can be granted for the alteration or improvement of single-family homes occupied by elderly or disabled people. These loans are means-tested. They can be given for the installation of water, drainage, heating and electrical equipment or modern kitchen equipment. The main purpose of these loans is to assist elderly or disabled people with low incomes to improve their housing conditions.
State support for the upgrading of public assembly halls
Certain types of assembly halls can obtain grants for adaptation to the needs of the disabled. Common measures for which grants are awarded include toilets for the disabled ramps and induction loop systems.
Environmental Improvement Grants.
State grants are available for improvements to the residential environment. The primary objective of these grants is not to improve accessibility for the disabled but to generally improve the environment for everyone living in the area. The grants are available for hobby and recreation premises, ancillary housing services, improvements of the outdoor environment including play and meeting areas, art works, the reduction of noise and air pollution and improvements in traffic safety. These can also include measures which improve accessibility.
In Sweden, as in many other Western countries, new housing construction has decreased drastically in recent years. Instead, renovation work has increased. The Swedish Parliament adopted in the autumn of 1983 a ten-year programme for housing improvements which includes the renovation of 275,000 flats in multi-family housing and of a substantial number of single-family homes.
If these properties are not made accessible to the disabled in connection with this renovation activity, they will remain "inaccessible" for many years to come.
Adaptation for the disabled in connection with renovation can sometimes be costly. This is primarily true of lift installation. In low-rise buildings it can be impossible to gain a full return on this cost, which has led to very generous exemption practices in many cases. The Housing Improvement Programme therefore includes a special state programme of grants for lift installation, amounting to SEK 100 million a year for three years. The state grant can cover up to 30% of the cost, the municipality must meet 20% and the property owner the remainder.
The draft Planning and Building Act currently being considered by the Advisory Committee on Legislation assumes that the municipalities will be given greater responsibility for accessibility planning. The current generous exemption practices are not to continue. The decision on where a lift is needed must be made on the basis of a concerted consideration of the future accessibility standard of the area. These considerations must be articulated in political decisions.
The costs of lifts and their installation are unreasonably high, mainly because existing, approved lift types are traditional models developed for traditional new construction. It may seem remarkable that the level of innovation in this field is so low in both Sweden and other countries. The Swedish Council for Building Research has therefore been commissioned and given some funds to stimulate the development of new types of lifts, mainly for existing low-rise buildings, through technology purchasing.
Even apart from lift installation, adaptations to the disabled can often conflict with sensitive renovation and attention to environmental qualities.
On costs and benefits
It must be stressed that it is important not to take too narrow a view in discussing building costs for adaptation to the needs of the disabled. Naturally, in many cases investments made in accessibility can be balanced by savings on expensive institutional care, home help services, etc. In Sweden, the state, municipalities and county councils are responsible for care and
service. Costs for one of these providers may result in savings in operating costs - but for another of them, which may affect their willingness to make investments.
An inter-ministerial working group has been set up to consider such issues among others. They will review the possibilities of improving accessibility to and within homes in connection with housing improvement work. They will identify the social and economic costs of different ways of providing good housing conditions for the elderly, the disabled, and people in need of care and service. Both the total cost implications and the distribution of costs among different parties will be examined.
The lack of a total view
Although there are requirements concerning the adaptation of important parts of the physical environment to the disabled, some parts are not covered by any sets of regulations. As mentioned previously, requirements concerning the outdoor environment only refer to the building plot, and then only to a passage across the plot from the street, vehicle access point, etc. to the building entrance. The lack of requirements concerning the outdoor environment means that the disabled person’s opportunities of moving about outdoors are reduced or lost. It also means that the disabled are excluded from activities which take place outdoors, from meeting places, gathering points, play areas, etc.
The draft of the new Planning and Building Act stipulates that the built environment, building plots, public places, etc. have to be designed to be accessible.
Plan and Reality
If adaptation measures are to result in actual adaptation to the disabled in practice, the intentions behind the legislation must also be realized in the construction and management phases. A lift has partly failed to produce the desired effect if it can only be reached after negotiating a couple of steps or if the control panel is so high that people confined to wheelchairs cannot reach it. An environment which is well planned for people with impaired vision can be jeopardized by inappropriate selection of colours. The highest accessibility standards in the outer environment can be lost through inadequate snow clearance, etc.
One lesson of the work on adaptation for the disabled in the physical environment is that legislation in the field is necessary but - regrettably - not enough. Detailed design, etc., is important - even concerning aspects which neither can nor should be subject to building control, or which are not of the kind indicated in such documents as local plans and building permits.
If the environment is to work as intended, the people who design it must have a good knowledge of and understanding for the requirements of different groups of disabled people, and they must be able to think themselves into the situation of these people. So the dissemination of knowledge to all the professional groups concerned - architects, planners, building control officers, site engineers - and to decision-makers - is of utmost importance both when there are formal, legal instruments and when they are lacking. Organizations of the disabled, and local Advisory Committees for the Disabled in particular, can play an important role in this work.
Housing for Certain Categories
Certain groups of people need specially designed and equipped homes to enable them to live in their own home outside institutions. Such groups include the severely disabled in need of round-the-clock service, the very severely disabled (people with several disabilities), the mentally retarded and the mentally handicapped. If these groups are to live independently they need a great deal of support in the form of service and care in the home. This means that their homes will be workplaces for some people.
The question of how homes should be designed to satisfy these different housing, care and work-environment requirements is being considered by the inter-ministerial working group mentioned above.
The Swedish Experience
This was a short description of the Swedish instruments - and of their shortcomings. The description is static. It applies to here and now. In an international perspective where different countries are at different stages in the adaptation of the physical environment to the disabled it is also of interest to describe the laborious path to our current situation and what we can see ahead of us.
The problems we have experienced can be characterized by such terms as "negative attitudes," "ignorance", "the growth of myths." As a result of factors like these the disabled have been disregarded, hidden away and forgotten in their own environment and in institutions. Another problem was the fact that adaptation for the disabled was long regarded as synonymous with adaptation for wheelchair users - this still results in some imbalance in the state of our knowledge about different types of disability. One example is people with allergies, about whom we know far too little.
Naturally, increased prosperity and the emergence of a society based on solidarity help to explain why we have managed to come this far. But we would never have made this much progress without the determined struggle mounted by organizations of the disabled to influence attitudes, spread information and scotch myths. Of course, research has played an important role in helping to identify problems and suggest solutions.
As mentioned previously, there are problems today - and additional problems can be anticipated in the future. In view of the weakness of the Swedish economy - by past standards - attention is naturally turning to the costs of housing construction. We can see a tendency to reduce the size (area) of homes and to lower housing standards. In combination with the debate about whether it is desirable to regulate in detail the design of and equipment standard in homes, this tendency may result in the weakening of the legislation we already have. This may have implications for the adaptation of housing for the disabled.
On the Role of CIB
R&D work has always been an important part of efforts to achieve a society based on the principle of normal and integrated participation by the disabled in the community. Much thought, creativity, and research money has been invested in this area.
Despite the fact that it is important to warn countries against naively and uncritically adopting the knowledge and experience gained in other countries and regions without placing them in a social, cultural and economic context, it is also important to underline the significance of exchanging and developing knowledge at an international level in this field.
One starting point for CIB’s work must be to make a survey of what systems of regulations (both public ones and the industry’s own) apply to the adaptation of the physical environment, and to analyze these. This is not a small task; it requires knowledge - country by country - about the control of community development.
Some information can be obtained for the European region through the cooperation on building matters in the ECE, the united Nations regional commission for Europe, and its project on the international harmonization of building regulations. There is also some cooperation at the Nordic level in this field.
A synthesis should also be made of current knowledge about what problems different groups of disabled people encounter in the physical environment (e.g. people with motor, orientation and mental disabilities and with allergies). This also applies to knowledge about appropriate measures in the environment to improve the situation in connection with the preparation of plans and with new construction and renovation.
The synthesis of national experiences of problems encountered so far and of countries’ views about current and future problems can provide an impetus for more direct exchanges of experience between countries and regions in different phases of "accessibility development," as well as for additional international research work.
Implementation questions are important, and they should also be included in international research cooperation. The role of organizations of the disabled might also be considered in this context
CIB/W 84 is faced with major and important work. The mere fact that this working group has been set up is of great importance - as an indication of the importance of questions concerning the disabled for planning and building - and as an indication that these questions affect all nations and regions. And - last but not least - as an indication of the importance of research and the responsibility the research community feels for gathering and spreading knowledge which can lead to a better physical environment for everyone.