The design of living and working spaces that take into account the potential ability of all people can make a vital difference to quality of life
Much of my work involves providing reports as an expert witness for attorneys in cases before the High Court where a plaintiff has been injured. Most of the other professional reports supplied are what are termed “medico-legal reports”, which examine the medical implications of whatever matter is being brought before Court. These recommend the therapies, medications and so on that will be required for the plaintiff in the future.
These medico-legal reports are very complex and, as far as I can see, all-consuming. They focus on the plaintiffs’ care and management – which becomes routine, as it must, so that the plaintiffs can get on with life. The attitude of the medical fraternity is understandable, too: they make every effort to rectify and “make good” (as we would say) the outcome for the person who has been injured. Such a report therefore tends to be a never-ending list of all the things that the person cannot now do or achieve. That is its purpose, so that the courts can decide how much compensation is due.
Some of the experts in the medical field appear to have a more social-minded approach, though, and recognise that treatments and therapies alone are not the answer, even though the intention behind them was originally noble. Some of the institutions recommended are “very bad places”, which look like barracks in the army or jail, which patently will not assist in the happy development or rehabilitation of the plaintiff. I believe that the environment exerts a very strong influence on the health and happiness of everyone.
My role in these cases is to try to envisage the actual future environment which will put the plaintiff in the same position as previously. In addition, if the new arrangement of the existing home is fully convenient and practical, the suggestion that the plaintiff move out to an institution will not be favoured.
One of the main problems in nearly all the environments of existing homes or blocks of flats is gaining entry from the boundary. This boundary exists outside of, and separately from, the house. The house itself is usually quite easy to adapt. The link from the public road to the dwelling can be the problem. It is of no use for the house to be perfectly suitable while the route to it is inaccessible! And because it’s separate from the building it is usually overlooked completely.
If the plaintiff is a child with a short life expectancy, it is hopefully more likely that the child and attendant will be accommodated happily in the house for life. An adult, though, would also depend on having a husband, wife or companion as well as the care attendant, and would expect to be there for longer.
In many of the social housing schemes, land with steep gradients has been acquired, as this is land that has less value in the open market. On either side of the land there are often steep flights of steps. These are most uncomfortable to negotiate, and really only suit a few people, and exclude – at the least – the very young and the very old. Universal design principles have been ignored and these properties cannot be considered as “lifetime” homes. I would say that a large percentage of our population live in houses like this. If only more thought were given to making the numbers of housing units provided more than just numbers!
In many areas of South Africa, land is not scarce and housing is spread far and wide over vast rural areas. This makes the provision of services difficult and it seems a pity that no policy has been put in place to resolve the situation. However customary traditions are respected and, I imagine, most countries developed in this way, with little pockets of settlements becoming denser and forming villages and then towns.
“From poor beginnings may better fortune follow” – Motto for the city of Durban.