Spotted this house on my way to work this morning. I’ve been watching it come up with interest because we once rented the place that used to be here. That one was torn down so the owners could start fresh.

Construction site for a new home. Photo shows a steep flight of stairs as the main entrance.

You’d think that starting fresh, with all we know now about disability, access and universal design, that they could have planned differently. Look at the main entrance! A steep flight of stairs bang in the front of the house!

A hazard for small children and an impossible barrier for many elderly and disabled people. Even if the owners are fit and able and have no grandchildren – and even if that never changes, which we know is impossible to predict – don’t they have friends who might fit that description? Will they never invite them over for dinner or a cup of tea?

The irony about this house is that we rented it for our child development centre. Even in its earlier avatar, it needed a lot of jugaad – but we had put in ramps, modified the bathrooms and cordoned off the areas that just couldn’t be made safe. We’re used to it because we haven’t yet rented a place for our disabled kids that didn’t need retro-fitting.

Let’s plan ahead from now on. It’s so much easier, so much more beautiful and so much less expensive to plan for the most vulnerable right from the start. Retrofitting is costly, messy and no fun because all it does is remind huge numbers of people that they’re an afterthought.

Architects could be a powerful force for making accessibility the norm all over India. They are the ones who remind young couples building their dream homes that they won’t always be young, that they may have elderly parents living with them one day or young children they want to keep safe. They are the ones who design schools, hospitals and banks. They design shopping centres, train stations and public toilets. They could change the story! Because once you’ve experienced accessibility (in an airport, at a mall, in your own home) you never want to go back to the old jugaad.



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