Building for Equality: Disability and the Built Environment Contents


1.For over 20 years the law of England and Wales has prohibited disability discrimination. Since October 2004, the law has also required those responsible for buildings open to the public to proactively ensure those buildings are as accessible as can reasonably be achieved—before an individual disabled person encounters barriers that could have been removed with a little forethought.

2.The aspirations that disabled people hold are no different to those of any of us: to work, to spend time with family and friends, and to do the things that we enjoy and that give our lives meaning. We have seen the numbers of disabled people in employment rise consistently in recent years,1 and the Government has been clear that it wants disabled people to be able to play a full, and equal, part in society.

3.Yet disabled people are still finding their lives needlessly restricted. There are 1.4 million disabled people or those with health conditions who don’t have a job, but want to work,2 and we heard of people unable to leave their homes for any length of time, or at all, due to the lack of something as basic as a toilet they could use.3

4.Witnesses to our inquiry told us of a wide range of situations in which they faced disabling barriers: an inadequate supply of accessible homes;4 public and commercial buildings without step free access,5 or with poor signage;6 workplaces people couldn’t get into;7 failures to install or maintain hearing loops;8 sports halls with surfaces unsuitable for wheelchair sports;9 failures to exempt assistance dogs from bans on dogs in public parks;10 the installation of ‘dog grids’ preventing assistance dogs from entering some public spaces;11 restrictive gates on paths and cycle routes blocking wheelchair users and those with adapted cycles;12 lack of cycle parking suitable for non-standard or adapted cycles;13 the ‘green man’ at traffic lights not allowing enough time to cross the road;14 streets where the removal of kerbs and controlled crossings made navigation impossible or unsafe;15 streets made impassable by pavement parking,16 cars parked across dropped kerbs,17 ‘A’ Boards and other ‘street clutter’ such as wheelie bins;18 and the continued use of uneven surfaces such as cobbles creating slip hazards.19 Our inquiry set out to ask why such problems remain, and to identify practical changes that the Government can take forward.

5.In Chapters 2 and 3 we examine how the Government can take a more strategic leadership role than it has to date, and how inclusive design principles can be embedded into the various stages of law and policy affecting the creation and evolution of the built environment.

6.From the evidence we heard, three areas stood out as needing specific examination, which are dealt with in turn in the succeeding chapters: in Chapter 4 we consider how to improve the supply of accessible, and not just—often barely—visitable, homes; Chapter 5 examines how public buildings and places could be made more accessible—including workplaces, hospitals, colleges, universities, shops, pubs, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other buildings and spaces that disabled people need to access to live their lives; and in Chapter 6 we examine the evidence on ‘shared spaces’—a form of street design whose proponents argue makes the public realm better and safer, but whose critics feel acts to exclude and endanger many disabled people.

7.A core thread running through these questions was the need to shift the burden of ensuring an accessible environment is achieved off the shoulders of individual disabled people, and onto those who are responsible for its creation and management. This was also a key theme in the 2016 report of the House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, on which our inquiry built. Our findings reinforce the request by the Chair of that Committee, Baroness Deech, for the Government to look again at its response to that inquiry.20

8.We launched our inquiry in August 2016 with a public call for evidence, and continued gathering evidence into March 2017. This has proved to be a good time to look at what more can be done. The Government has agreed to use the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to put further pressure on local authorities to make sufficient provision for accessible housing,21 and has published a Housing White Paper.22 The Equality and Human Rights Commission is using its statutory powers to conduct an inquiry into housing and disability.23 New British Standards Codes of Practice on accessibility and inclusive design are being developed24 and the Construction Industry Council has published an ‘Essential Principles Guide’ for creating an accessible and inclusive environment.25 The Department for Transport is developing an accessible transport action plan26 and the Chartered Institute for Highways and Transport is conducting a review of shared space schemes.27 Much is being done, but our evidence tells us that more is needed if we are to truly make progress in enabling disabled people to have the same opportunities as everyone else, by creating a more accessible, and inclusive, built environment.

9.We received over 160 written submissions, including many from individual disabled people and their organisations. We are particularly grateful to have received a number of submissions from private individuals giving us the benefit of their own and their family’s experiences of trying to live a full life in an inaccessible environment. We heard oral evidence in four sessions, starting with disabled people’s organisations and ending with Ministers. We heard from housebuilders, standard setters, inspectors, lawyers and local authorities. We visited Bath, Birmingham and Leeds to hear from disabled people and those handling issues of accessibility on the ground. We are grateful to all those who gave us evidence, on which our conclusions are based. We were assisted in this inquiry by two specialist advisers: Professor Anna Lawson28 and Rachel Smalley,29 and would like to thank them for their invaluable support and advice.

The social model of disability

10.Throughout the inquiry we have used the social model of disability, meaning that the focus of our inquiry has been on how the built environment, and the processes which act to create it, need to change to remove disabling barriers. There are two consequences to this.

11.Firstly, the Equality Act 2010 requires those providing services to the public, and those performing public functions, to anticipate the need for reasonable adjustments. Adopting the social model means planning in advance for the fact that disabled people will want or need to use a building or public space, and making the reasonable adjustments needed to facilitate this. This report examines some of the ways in which this could be improved.

12.Secondly, the social model implies that an approach that relies on individual disabled people bringing a challenge each and every time they encounter a disabling barrier is neither morally nor practically sustainable. This is, unfortunately, the primary method of enforcement provided for by the Equality Act 2010, leading the House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act and Disability to make a number of recommendations for reducing or removing the burden of enforcement from disabled people.30 This report seeks to build on those recommendations and so considers further ways in which the Government should take a more proactive approach to both preventing inaccessible places being created in the first place, and enforcing the legal obligations to make the existing built environment as accessible as it can be.

Disability in the UK

13.In 2011 the Census found that around 11.5 million people in the UK (18 per cent of the population) had a long-term health problem or disability that limited their day-to-day activities either a lot or a little. In England and Wales four per cent of people aged 0 to 15, nine per cent of people aged 16 to 49, 24 per cent of people aged 50 to 64 and 54 per cent of people aged 65 or over had a long-term health problem or disability that limited their day-to-day activities either a lot or a little.

People whose day-to-day activities are limited a lot or a little, England and Wales



Day-to-day activities limited...

Day-to-day activities limited...

... a lot

... a little

... not limited

Total population

... a lot

... a little

... a lot or a little





























Total population








Source: ONS NOMIS – Census 2011 – DC3201EW – Long-term health problem or disability by general health by ethnic group by sex by age

14.Age UK made the point in their evidence to us that healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life expectancy; this means that more of us will need to manage long-term conditions as we age, as well as care for others. Age UK cited figures estimating that, without intervention in age-related disease, there will be over 6.25 million older people with a long-term limiting illness or disability by 2030.31

15.While not all those in these groups will be disabled, it is clear that disabled people make up a significant, and increasing, proportion of the UK population. Most people, even if not disabled themselves, will be the employer, colleague, friend, family member or carer of someone who is. Disability is something that affects us all, and enabling disabled people to play a full and active part in society is something that will benefit us all.


16.Our inquiry has not specifically addressed the law and policy of devolved administrations. We did receive evidence from both Scotland and Wales, which strongly suggests that many of the barriers faced by disabled people are the same throughout the UK. We hope that this report may therefore be of use to those seeking to improve the situation outside England and of interest to those administrations.

1 Key statistics on people with disabilities in employment, Briefing Paper Number 7540, House of Commons Library, December 2016

3 Laura Rutherford (DBE0159); Centre for Accessible Environments (DBE0102); Around the Toilet (DBE0087)

4 Later Life Ambitions (DBE0108); College of Occupational Therapists Specialists Section in Housing (DBE0076); Angela Cavill-Burch (DBE0001); Centre for Ageing Better (DBE0003); Aspire (DBE0026); Care and Repair England (DBE0053)

5 Ms Julie Fleck (DBE0083); Inclusion London (DBE0190); Wheels for Wellbeing (DBE0086); Scottish Disability Equality Forum (DBE0095)

6 Vision 2020 UK (DBE0075); Newcastle Disability Forum (DBE0030); Mr Ronald Koorm (DBE0027)

7 Stephanie Swain (DBE0032); Q16 (Zara Todd)

8 Unity Law (DBE0160); Disability Dynamics UK (DBE0042); Vision 2020 UK (DBE0075)

9 Sport England (DBE0165), citing the work of British Wheelchair Basketball.

10 The Kennel Club (DBE0175)

11 The Kennel Club (DBE0175)

12 Dr Rachel Aldred (DBE0132)

13 Wheels for Wellbeing (DBE0086)

14 People First (self advocacy) (DBE0183)

15 Vaughan Rees (DBE0188); People First (self advocacy) (DBE0183); Sarah Gayton (DBE0184); Thomas Pocklington Trust (DBE0123); Guide Dogs (DBE0114); RNIB (DBE0110) and many others (see further Chapter 6)

16 Dr Rachael Luck (DBE0169); Thomas Pocklington Trust (DBE0123); Carole Holmes MBE (DBE0022); British Parking Association (DBE0148)

17 Centre for Housing Policy (DBE0093); Bristol Disability Equality Forum (DBE0078)

18 Thomas Pocklington Trust (DBE0123); Centre for Housing Policy (DBE0093); Carole Holmes MBE (DBE0022); David Hunter (DBE0019)

19 Michael Broderick (DBE0179)

20 HL Deb, 06 September 2016, col 965 [Lords Chamber]

21 HL Deb, 02 February 2017, cols 261–265 [Lords Chamber]

22 Department for Communities and Local Government, Fixing Our Broken Housing Market (February 2017)

23 Equality and Human Rights Commission, ‘Inquiry into housing for disabled people’, accessed 20 April 2017

24 BSI Committee B/559 (DBE0084)

25 CIC, ‘CIC launches essential principles guide’ Accessed 20 April 2017

26 Q191 (Andrew Jones MP, Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport).

27 Chartered Institute of Highways and Transportation (DBE0118)

28 Professor Lawson declared the following interests: Professor of Law at the School of Law and Director of the Centre for Disability Studies at University of Leeds; Member of the Equality & Human Rights Commission’s Disability Committee; Member of the co-ordinating research team of the EU Academic Network of Experts on Disability; Member of JUSTICE’s Council; Advisor to the Business Disability Forum; Member of Disability Rights UK; Member of Law & Society Association; Member of the Socio-Legal Studies Association; Member of Royal National Institute of Blind and Partially Sighted People; Member of Society of Legal Scholars; Member of University and College Union; Member of Society of Visually Impaired Lawyers.

29 Rachel Smalley declared the following interests: Full time employee of the Greater London Authority, employed as Principal Advisor: Access and Inclusion; Owner and director of RCS Inclusive Design Consultancy Ltd; National President of the Access Association; a member of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee; Governor at Leeds College of Building; a committee member on two British Standards Committees under B559 – responsible for BS8300 vols. 1 and 2; Listed as a Built Environment Expert with Design Council Cabe; Board member for the BEPE project (built environment professional education project).

30 House of Lords Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, Report of Session 2015–16, The Equality Act 2010: the impact on disabled people HL Paper 17

31 Age UK (DBE0156)

24 April 2017