Auto-disabilities: the case of shared space environments
Many urban environments are being redesigned around a relatively new approach to street design termed shared space. Shared space is a traffic engineering concept that eliminates physical barriers separating motor vehicles, pedestrians, and other road users to encourage a sharing of street space. Such sharing is seen as a means to calm traffic and to create convivial urban spaces. The evidence shows that local authorities in the UK and overseas are enthusiastic about shared space for its potential to enhance the urban realm. Vulnerable street users, such as vision-impaired people, do not share this enthusiasm. They perceive shared space as likely to bring them into increasing contact with motor vehicles, and as compromising their safety and well-being. Shared spaces are, potentially, what I refer to as auto-disabling environments. Referring to data from the UK, I develop the proposition that shared space can be characterised as ‘disembodied urban design’ that fails to capture the complexity of corporeal form and the manifold interactions of bodies-in-space. The disembodied understanding of the interactions between bodies, space, and movement, propagated by shared space design, (re)produces both existential insecurity and ontological uncertainty amongst certain categories of users, such as vision-impaired people. Shared space can be understood as a manifestation of disabling design in the built environment, and as a reaffirmation of disabled people’s relative invisibility in relation to the crafting of designed spaces. Keywords: disability, embodiment, mobilities, social exclusion, urban design
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