Imagine a world where an inaccessible bridge was unimaginable | Bolt Burdon Kemp Imagine a world where an inaccessible bridge was unimaginable | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Imagine a world where an inaccessible bridge was unimaginable

Once upon a time there was a town; and in that town there was a train station; and near that train station there was a level crossing and that level crossing was dangerous. So Network Rail, who managed the railway decided to build a bridge. The bridge was specially designed and was called a Flow bridge; standing for ‘fibre-reinforced polymer, lower cost, optimised design, working’ bridge!

The bridge was very clever. It could be picked up and moved to another location if required. The bridge opened to a lot of praise and fanfare. There was however one small problem. This bridge was not accessible.

It beggars belief how we can be in 2023 and things like this are still happening. How is it that companies still consider it to be acceptable to build and install things that discriminate against certain sections of society? Now, when Network Rail installed the bridge they were not ignorant to the fact that their bridge was inaccessible. They are quoted as saying:

“Its versatile design means we have already started looking at fully accessible versions, with lifts and ramps, for other locations where that would be a suitable option.”

And on twitter when questioned over the lack of accessibility the response from @NetworkRailWAL, the official feed of Network Rail in Wales and Borders was:

“A ramped version has been designed but, to prove the concept would work, this prototype was deemed the most economical option to test – saving tax-payers money and time. Accessibility assessments carried out by Network Rail found it suitable for this location”

Two issues here. Firstly I find the argument of ‘saving tax-payers money’ to be unpalatable; disabled people pay tax and deserve it to be spent making a world that is accessible to them! Secondly the reference to “diversity and inclusivity assessments” makes my heart sink; because whilst I haven’t seen the specific assessment carried out for the bridge in Wistanstow presumably it concludes that although disabled people use the station, the number is such that it is acceptable to discriminate against them. And herein lies my frustration. Why, as a society, are we so comfortable with making life easier for the able bodied at the expense of those with disabilities? How is it acceptable to make even one person’s life more difficult? When I was reading about these events and looking at social media another thing that struck me was how ignorant so many of the comments were. Comments that questioned why a disabled person or a person in a wheelchair would even be using public transport or the fact that this was a countryside location and how would a wheelchair user even be able to get around in such an environment? The answer is often equipment and/or sheer force of will and many wheelchair users traverse challenging terrain on a daily basis. From navigating pavements and camber in the local high street to Martin Hibbert climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on behalf of the Spinal Injury Association, disabled people are out and about all the time!

It frustrates me that in 2023 we are still living in a time that has accessible and inaccessible bridges. We should just have bridges and it should be taken for granted that when new things are designed and built that they will automatically be designed and built to be accessible for all. It is just not acceptable that anything other than that is done and arguments about ‘saving money’ and ‘accessibility assessments’ are simply fronts for the argument that it is ‘easier’.

That is why, as a firm, Bolt Burdon Kemp will continue to run our design competition, Design the Change, in order to continue to encourage students to become designers who would never design something that is inaccessible. We want to encourage to help create future designers who will refuse to accept the current status quo and who will approach every design from the perspective that it must be accessible to all and anything less than that is unimaginable.

In the meantime Network Rail have advised that accessible versions of their FLOW bridges are being designed. I will be watching and waiting with interest.

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