To suggest that it might be a good idea to improve accessibility within the Middle East’s built environment is hardly a controversial standpoint. Even if you do not stand to personally benefit from such endeavours, you’d have to suffer from a severe lack of empathy to conclude that they are, therefore, not worth pursuing. You’d also have to be somewhat lacking in foresight; a dearth of accessibility features may not hamper your day-to-day activities right now, but there is no guarantee that this will remain the case indefinitely.
In this week’s issue, Steven Carpenter and Elie Ghoussoub, accessibility experts from WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, explain how the soon-to-be-implemented Dubai Universal Design Code will serve to facilitate the emirate’s transition towards becoming a universally inclusive environment (page 22). While both acknowledge that there are already pockets of good practice in Dubai, they are confident that the upcoming regulations will provide a robust framework within which our industry can make the built environment accessible to all.
Encouragingly, this shift has already started to gain momentum. Through the Dubai Government Excellence Programme (DGEP), public sector entities have been working diligently to improve accessibility within their facilities. 2016 saw the inaugural DGEP Accessibility Award, which was won by Dubai Police, and Carpenter and Ghoussoub – who have been undertaking audits as part of the initiative’s second cycle – say that vast improvements have been made in the past 12 months. They are confident that government-led efforts to improve accessibility, coupled with the implementation of the Dubai Universal Design Code, will lead to increased levels of activity within the private sector.
But aside from the obvious theoretical arguments in favour of improved accessibility, Carpenter and Ghoussoub note that such efforts can also result in practical benefits. A recent UN study revealed that 15% of the global population – approximately one billion people – are living with some form of disability. By optimising accessibility across built assets, Dubai’s developers can maximise their pool of prospective customers and employees. It is easy to understand, for instance, how this focus could contribute to the emirate’s tourism-related ambitions.
What’s more, research conducted by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff demonstrates that universally inclusive environments are more efficient than their antiquated counterparts. Put simply, improved people flow means that companies can conduct more business in the same amount of time.
Which begs the question: If there are sound ethical and commercial arguments for improved accessibility, why wouldn’t developers invest accordingly? The creation of a universally inclusive built environment represents an open goal, both for Dubai and the wider region.