Copyright © Council of Europe
Construction of the man-made environment is based on the assumption that there exists an "average" person. However, there is no standardised person. Every individual deviates from the norm in one way or another: age, height, width, weight, strength, speed, sight, hearing, stamina, mental faculties, etc. Consequently, facilities built for the average person are not necessarily equally accessible for everybody.
In the past, the problem of accessibility was considered a direct result of the individual’s deviation from the norm. The person was the exception, hence the problem. The itemised approach tried to reduce the disadvantages of specific groups by introducing special facilities into the built environment, such as ramps or special doors. Individuals, still seen as exceptions to the rule, were thus stigmatised by having to use, for example, separate entrances.
Already the Council of Europe’s landmark Recommendation No. R (92) 6 on A coherent policy for people with disabilities, which promotes their rights to full citizenship, independent living, equal opportunities and full participation, urged member States’ governments to remove all obstacles in the environment and in society to make it possible for people with disabilities to play a full role in the community life.
In the publication Accessibility – Principles and Guidelines (1993) the Council of Europe promotes the concept of integrated accessibility. The text presents the fundamental principles of that concept and offers guidelines for solutions.
The Council of Europe is currently preparing revolutionary accessibility guidelines: a specific recommendation to incorporate the principles of Universal Design, including accessibility, into the curricula of all vocations that work on the built environment.
This new approach should respond equally to the needs of everyone. Everyone must be able to enter and use any part of the built environment as independently and naturally as possible. A new awareness of construction and design is needed. The criteria defining normality should be enlarged to ensure that the construction of the built environment is based on the principles of Universal Design.