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Visual Impairment and the Built Environment

Part 1 Dissertation 2005
Robert White
University of Strathclyde | UK
The goal of this dissertation was to investigate in what form and to what effect current legislation and design guidelines contribute to the planning and design of public spaces, buildings and facilities such that they become without limitation appropriate for the use by disabled people. For reasons of personal experience of the author as well as the constraints imposed by the academic framework, the study focused on the problems and needs of the visually impaired who represent a substantial minority of the population; the combined statistics for Glasgow, for instance, indicate that this group, previously thought to be only marginal, could represent as much as five percent of the population.

Exploration started with the scrutiny of current disability related legislation and design guidelines. In order to establish how they affect the design of the public realm a questionnaire was sent to an albeit small group of people with different types and degrees of visual impairment with the request to highlight the organisational and design features of specific public spaces, buildings and types of public transport in Glasgow that would help or hinder them to use these elements of the city. The very useful and generally rather critical responses were then supported by interviewing a number of those that had sent back their responses to the questionnaire. This investigation was followed by a systematic survey of the author, himself visually impaired, of good and bad design features of urban spaces, buildings and facilities.

All three explorations confirmed that current legislation and design guidelines are too vague and too limited to effect planning and design of the public realm to respond to the problems and needs of the visually impaired. Therefore the systematic examination of the responses of and observations made in the investigation led to the formulation of a wider and more specific set of design guidelines with the help of which a higher standard of design of elements of the public realm could effect the social inclusion of the visually impaired. The dissertation concludes with recommendations of further more inclusive and statistically more significant research.

Robert White

This is an outstanding piece of work, way above a normal undergraduate dissertation. It presents a critical review of current recommendations and guidelines for the design of the public realm and demonstrates the difficulties this design causes for the visually impaired. It concludes that current guidelines are inadequate and recommends their improvement and expanssion. By doing so, this dissertation makes a creative contribution to the understanding of the problems visually impaired people encounter when using the urban environment and recommends design features that would help reduce these problems.

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