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What prevents the development of universal design in Belarus?

16/06/2014

In the frames of accessibility week we managed to gather unique specialists who in different spheres deal with accessibility issues. This time they talked about a new to Belarus trend – universal design.

Universal design (often inclusive design) refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities.

The term "universal design" was coined by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life. According to statistical data about 90 percent of the planet’s population need universal design: elderly people, young parents with strollers, manual workers who often have to carry heavy things, temporarily incapacitated and simply tired people. It is a significant fact that disability “dissolves” in “universal” environment: a person doesn’t have to think to which store to go or where to have a lunch. Other barriers are also erased, for example all the information is understandable because it is clearly shown and with the help of recognizable pictograms.

The concept is a new one to Belarus it is even difficult to give examples more or less correlating with the principles of universal design. The idea has its followers but there are still many questions. Will universal design become a trend professionals will stick to? Won’t it raise the cost of construction? Do the principles of universal design correspond with the national legislation?

Sergei Drozdovskiy, lawyer, the coordinator of the Office for the rights of persons with disabilities: “The society has created the environment that is an insurmountable barrier for many people. How to find a solution that would be comfortable for all? How can we improve the quality of life of one group of people without worsening the life of other groups? Universal design is the new idea which will make the rules of the game beneficial for all. Universal design is one of the instruments Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities rests upon. But for many countries it is a benefit and a challenge. States have to think about the environment which would be comfortable for all people. And universal accessibility is the direct way to equality”.

In spite of the fact that Belarus is one of the last countries in Europe which hasn’t yet joined the international convention we still have all the preconditions for the development of this trend in architecture and services.

Natalia Lazovskaya, Candidate of architecture, associate professor at the department of architecture of public and housing buildings of Belarusian national technical university: “Today we have special norms and if you completely follow them you will make environment comfortable and accessible. Architectural projects are agreed with obligatory accessibility but at commissioned facilities we observe violations and non-compliance with the norms. When we speak about barrier-free environment we imply the creation of separate elements of environment and forget about the system approach. And that is why we have accessible crossings not included into continuous pedestrian network. That is only one of many examples. The concept of universal design can change the situation. We have to teach young professionals, to cooperate with interested organizations, such as Office for the rights of persons with disabilities, for example”.

Dmitry Surskiy, the head of Belarusian union of designers.

“For me it’s difficult to imagine that any of my colleagues-designers will decide to do something for persons with disabilities in some creative impulse. The sphere of design is poorly supported in Belarus and especially such specific topics. But I think if there are scholarships, grants or any other investments in this case people ready to create universal design will appear.

At the same time a new for our country trend of design could be a wonderful professional niche for young specialists. Now there are no proposals at the market and it is a good chance to make oneself known. But I think in 15-20 years “universal” designers will be in demand and the concept – trendy.

Ivars Balodis, the head of the organization of people with disabilities and their friends «APEIRONS»: “In Latvia we have started to work on this topic in 1997. Today our organization is involved in approval of projects of new buildings. No building can be built today in the country if it is inaccessible. Owners understand the obvious benefits: for example, the profit of a shop without a threshold at the entrance is 15 percent higher in comparison with a shop with the threshold or a step at the entrance. Universal design and physical accessibility are not the same thing. Physical accessibility is a part of universal design which doesn’t exceed 10 percent. Comfort of the environment for everyone is the main rule. Universal design opens new possibilities for designers it lets them create something unique. You can make an uncomfortable and ugly ramp or a piece of art out of a bag of cement. Universal design gives a possibility not to concentrate attention on people with disabilities. There is no necessity to create special equipment and facilities for persons with disabilities they have already been created it is enough to think how to make the environment comfortable. Comfort in use is the greatest award for a designer.

Specialists say that if to make a good project it will not make the object more expensive. A lot of money is needed for rebuilding of what was constructed with the violation of norms.

Stereotype thinking of designers creating environment in Belarus is among the main barriers on the way of the new designer trend.

- Any person in any time may need a socially safe environment. You have to remember that we all are getting older and someday a 10 steps staircase can become insurmountable barrier for all of us. That is why we have to start making the environment comfortable today. We are ready to share our experience with our Belarusian colleagues.