Getting there

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am

The trend is towards doing away with 'one building, two systems'

In the early days of barrier-free access, developers often got away with cheap, cheerless access solutions that had minimal impact on their property. A wheelchair ramp tucked down a side alley, away from the main entrance of a building, seemed to meet the access regulations, despite being deeply stigmatising to the people who used it. Some developers would even build a disabled toilet to fulfil regulations and turn it into a storeroom after completion. Such a lack of care for the needs of disabled people was not uncommon and architects often placed their needs low in the design pecking order.

The trend towards architecture for all offers a more inclusive approach to problems of access and architecture and strives to do away with the idea of 'one building, two systems'. Instead, it unites everyone's needs in one architectural design. A ramp suitable for wheelchairs is incorporated into the main design of the building and becomes part of its aesthetic.

Hong Kong International Airport, Disneyland, Ocean Park and Hong Kong Central Library are all examples of public facilities with good accessibility due to careful architectural design. Their successes were achieved, in part, through careful consultation with end-users. 'We took part by giving them advice so that they could properly equip themselves for people with disabilities,' said Cecilia Lam Shiu-ling, hospital chief executive of ReHabAid Centre.

The ReHabAid Society organises regular workshops for architects and medical professionals to help them share skills and knowledge about access issues and disability. It also organises site visits and consultancy services in which architects employed by the ReHabAid Society and occupational therapists working at the organisation's centres join forces to provide solutions to people's access needs.