Is Disability Architecture’s Final Taboo?

Disability is often overlooked when diversity is under scrutiny. Greg Pitcher spoke to four disabled people about their experiences in the profession

‘There is a general taboo around disability where people feel they need to hide it if they can,’ says Amy Francis-Smith, vice-president of the Birmingham Architectural Association.

‘I have [become] more outspoken on the issue in a hope that it will encourage others to open up about their own experiences.’

Architecture’s issues with gender, race and sexuality diversity have faced increasing scrutiny in recent years. But disability is another area where improvement is desperately needed.

Although one in five working-age adults in the UK are classed as disabled, according to charity Scope, latest figures suggest a significantly lower proportion for those working in architecture.

Fewer than 1 per cent of respondents to a survey by the Architects’ Registration Board this August described themselves as having a disability.

The AJ spoke to four people at different stages of their architectural careers about their experiences studying and working with a disability.

The interviews highlight the barriers that make it harder to enter the profession as well as the ways in which practices miss out by not tapping into this well of talent and life experience.

From cantilevered reception desks to narrow corridors, our interviews reveal the way simple design flaws throughout buildings make life harder for a fifth of the population.

While the pandemic may have indirectly created better working conditions for some disabled architects, it has also added to the challenge in other ways.

Amid the lessons that the industry can learn, one thing is overwhelming clear: there is a strong desire among those we talked to for the voice of the disabled community to be heard louder and more often.