Part of the problem or part of the solution? A discussion of the reality of ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’ (paper, 2012)

Reeve, D. (2012) ‘Part of the problem or part of the solution? A discussion of the reality of ‘Inclusive Access for Disabled Customers’’, paper presented at Disability – Spaces and Places of Exclusion Symposium, Lancaster University, 16-17 April.


Although disabled people in the UK had the right to use services and access goods in 1995, it was only on 2004 that the Disability Discrimination Act (replaced in 2010 by the Equality Act) was extended to demand that service providers make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to physical features which made it difficult for disabled people to access their services. However the failure of planners and architects to embrace inclusive design has meant that Western cities reveal a ‘design apartheid where building form and design are inscribed with the values of an ‘able-bodied’ society’ (Imrie, 1998: 129). In addition, the ‘reasonable adjustments’ which are made often concentrate on aiding independence through the provision of physical access, but at the cost of disabled people’s self-esteem and dignity. Thus the adjustments made are often far from ideal for the people who use them.

This paper will discuss how indirect psycho-emotional disablism can arise from moving within ‘landscapes of exclusion’ (Kitchin, 1998: 351) caused by poorly thought through ‘reasonable adjustments’. Whilst a flight of steps can exclude a wheelchair user (structural disablism), being forced to access a building through a separate back entrance can remind that person that they are a second-class citizen, who is being reluctantly included. Consequently the wheelchair user may decide not to access this building and ironically the ‘solution’ to a physical barrier has created a new psycho-emotional barrier which maintains social exclusion and isolation. If one takes into account the other forms of psycho-emotional disablism which people with impairments face on a daily basis e.g. prejudiced interactions with others and internalised oppression, then the emotional effect produced by being reminded that one is ‘out of place’ (Kitchin, 1998: 351) needs to be taken as seriously as the more common structural disablism caused by inaccessible environments.

This seminar paper was developed into a subsequent book chapter.