Almost a quarter of a century working with the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) means Associate Consultant Vin Goodwin is well placed to provide solid insight and advice into how we make inclusion the norm and place the needs of everyone, including disabled people, at the forefront of design in the built environment. Read on to find out why he believes it’s all about attitude and respect.
How long have you been working with CAE and what do you specialise in?
A long, long time… dinosaurs had only just finished roaming the earth, and when I first started at CAE I didn’t have email. Only one person had an email address and we had to send and receive emails via that one person – way back in 1997.
Over the years, I’ve carried out some access audits and worked on design schemes. but I mostly carry out training on behalf of CAE. I absolutely love training, as I love connecting with people, and trying to make access and inclusion fun and engaging.
How do you define inclusive design and accessibility?
Many things spring to mind like respect, empathy, openness and thoughtfulness. Inclusive design is common sense to me, but I know not everyone sees it that way – they see it as a ‘new thing’ or an ‘add on’ or just being ‘woke’.
For me, the design of places, spaces, buildings, products, art and everything should reflect and serve the world we live in and society – every single one of us.
Why did you decide to specialise in inclusive design/access?
I studied and worked in architecture originally. At university, I wrote a dissertation on the personalisation of post war prefab homes and the tutor almost failed me. He said it “wasn’t architecture”. That depressed me – it was like I was being punished for even considering the people who used the buildings.
Through working with knowledgeable architects, who actually did care about the end user, architecture as a subject clicked more with me, and it was a natural progression to work in a field like access and inclusion as it considered people. It was also early in the field, so it was exciting being at the cutting edge of it all.
What is the biggest access issue facing disabled and older people on a day to day basis today?
Attitude. Everything else follows on from having respect and understanding of a wide range of people. Inclusive design can be forced upon the designers, but you only get true inclusive design when there is a true will to have it.
How do you feel the pandemic has changed inclusiveness and accessibility for disabled people?
Like recessions or financial crashes, events like the Covid-19 pandemic result in ‘panic mode’ where anything to do with access and inclusion/diversity start being seen as a ‘luxury item’.
People’s needs get forgotten and the excuse that “we’re in a crisis and we haven’t got time or money for all that” gets trotted out (not blatantly, but it is there). So with over 20 years of moving forwards, there has been a bit of a halting or even reversal, but it’ll come back again.
What do you see as the biggest hurdle facing disabled people in the built environment in the next 5-10 years?
Overarching all (again) is ‘changing attitudes’, as it’s always been. Another key thing is decent quality accessible housing across the UK – not just in pockets where Local Authorities prioritise it more. Emergency evacuation from buildings for disabled people is another. It’s incredibly sad that it takes tragic events like Grenfell to even get slightly heard on this subject.
If you could make one law today regarding inclusive design and accessibility, what would it be?
That Inclusive design and diversity should be integrated and opportunities taken to advance opportunity at ALL levels of design education and practice. I’ve worked with designers who seem to know absolutely nothing about inclusive design or the massive range of people they should be designing for.
Can you name one CAE project that you’ve worked on that has made a significant impact in terms of inclusion and access? Explain briefly how it’s done that.
Myself and fellow CAE Associate Consultant Ann Sawyer worked with the landscape designers for London Olympic Park and Public Realm. The landscape designers were totally on board with access and inclusion (and it was required by the Olympic Delivery Authority).
We had so many opportunities to identify problems, get them sorted before it was too late and to consult with disabled people as the design progressed. I had a walk round the park recently and not only is it lovely, but I can also see accessible features and details that might not have been there if we hadn’t been involved.
Wearing your inclusive design/access consultant hat, what has stood out for you the most during the Covid-19 pandemic?
One small thing: the landlords of the office I used to work in before the first lockdown decided to install foot operated door pulls on toilet doors to avoid handles being touched. They were attempting to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
It reminded me that – even after working in this field for so many years – we still have a bit of a way to go before we live in a world where people think “if we install a foot control for toilet doors, what shall we do for the people who can’t use that foot control?”.