To manage the process of accessibility change, accessibility planning approaches have emerged from two traditions: more proactive planning to achieve greater clarity and consistency between accessibility goals and practice; and reacting to problems to close gaps in access. The former requires a commitment to delivering policy goals for better accessibility, whilst the latter is often derived from the need to meet other aims such as more people in employment, better education or more inclusive healthcare.
There is widespread adoption of the reactive processes. An accessibility need is defined to tackle a barrier that unreasonably, in the view of the governing organisation of authority, constrains an individual from participation in some activity or opportunity. The evidence of failure to meet people’s needs creates an incentive for action. Reactive accessibility planning is also often underpinned by legislation, such as the legislation about equality in most countries, to secure reasonable action to overcome physical, cost, information, safety and other barriers.
The development of more proactive approaches to improve access has been patchy and has relied on local deliver partners committed to a people focused view of transport systems. These proactive approaches have been most evident when an individual, group or organisation seeks a wider social, economic or environmental goal and plans accessibility to help achieve it. A typical example would be setting up a community shop in a rural area so that residents do not need to drive so often to a nearby town.
Many countries are succeeding with successful implementation of more people focused approaches to service delivery, and experience over the last 20 years demonstrates a triumph of delivery over a confused policy framework. When solutions that focus on people’s needs do not fit within established governance structures public policy has tended to resist making improvements for people in favour of defending hierarchical governance approaches. This means that accessibility planning has been best delivered from the bottom up. Site-based policies for better access to schools, or leisure facilities, have become widespread, and many countries now have well-developed programmes to overcome barriers to reaching facilities.
To tackle the barriers faced by governments in delivering cross sector policy for accessibility planning, more could learned from the successful application of organisational theory and social anthropology in the design of effective governance. There were major advances in collective action in the twentieth century and in the twenty-first century even greater advances will be needed in the global economy. Understanding how trust is developed and co-operative working nurtured would greatly help accessibility planning.
Derek Halden has published a paper on the progress made and directions for future improvements in a book by Routledge “Designing Accessibility Instruments”