Cities are built by and for able-bodied people and are often composed of a range of elements that make them partially (or not) accessible to disabled people. Architectural barriers within and around buildings can limit disabled people’s access to structures and services, precluding their full participation in a social life. It is not possible to talk about making further social progress until disabled people are no longer victims of marginalisation caused by our urban architecture. In order to identify some specific problems and possible solutions, a qualitative research study was carried out in a city in northern Italy, involving people with sensory and physical impairments. Findings indicate that cities in general, and the oldest ones in particular, can present an important problem: some historic centres and buildings are not (or cannot be) restored to become more accessible.
This lack of accessibility will increase the exclusion of disabled people by imposing limitations and restrictions, from mobilising around urban centres, to use of pavements, entry into shops or workplaces, through to accessing treatment and health services. Moreover, this research demonstrates that, in many cases, relatively inexpensive and simple measures and arrangements might be enough to help tackle and solve many of these problems. This paper argues that a first, fundamental step in looking to improve access should be to involve disabled people in participatory planning. These users will be the best experts of their own needs and some of the best informed about the attributes and particularities of any alterations or adaptations needed to help them negotiate, manage and plan the areas in which they live.