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Posted by Philip on 8 February 2014, 11:22 am in , , , , ,

Polarity in accessibility

An article in this morning's local rag gives me a perfect opportunity to begin to share with you some of the insights I gained at the retreat I attended last week on polarity, run by the superb Sue Davidoff and Allan Kaplan of the Proteus Initiative in South Africa (I've mentioned Allan and Sue, and the amazing insights I've had through their teaching, in other posts).

The retreat looked at the impact of polarity in its many forms. More common examples of polarity are light and dark/shadow, finite and infinite, growth and decay. Some of the less obvious aspects we worked with were detail and form, extensiveness and intensiveness, and our impact on the world and others' impact on our world.

It is common for us as humans to recognise and favour one or other aspect of polarity. The challenge is to work with not only both aspects, but also the relationship between them. Another interesting characteristic of polarity is the context in which it occurs, as well as the idea that polarity often exists in more than one form, especially in complex situations.

The article, to which I referred above, concerns accessibility, something I obviously care deeply about. It amuses me how many articles I have read over the years, stressing the importance of ramps, tactile footpath indicators and visible flashing fire alarms. We're sometimes slow to catch on, aren't we? The Canterbury exemption legislation is both a cause and an indication of this (the first element of polarity in accessibility).

Another element of polarity in accessibility is the means by which we create it. What is accessible to one individual or group may not be for others. I once knew a guy with a condition that impacted his mobility. He walked, but the slope of ramps made him over-balance, so he needed to use stairs. Tactile markings on footpaths are a blessing for those who are blind and use a cane. But they can be a curse for someone using a wheelchair, particularly when travelling at speed with light, small front wheels.

Finally, imagine waking up in the middle of the night in a hotel room in an emergency and a flashing alarm triggers an epileptic seizure.

The third element of accessibility, that applies particularly to Canterbury, is value. Aforementioned practicalities aside, there is a very real tension between the social and financial value of accessibility. It both enables participation and, while not in many instances but certainly in some, costs more.

Polarity, which often causes paradox, is a very real phenomenon in our physical world. It's tricky and often uncomfortable and present consistently, even though it often goes unnoticed.

So, the challenges and opportunities of any instance of polarity are to:

  1. Recognise it
  2. Observe and understand it
  3. Meet it with curiosity, creativity and generosity
  4. Approach it from an both/and perspective as much is possible, rather than an either/or stance
  5. Embrace it and learn from it
  6. Accept that, as much as there is the pressure and expectation to find a solution or an outcome, polarity will always exist — you'll only ever discover ideas that may or may not work.  

Now, go play with those ideas.


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