Setting Sail: the Voyage of Disability and Housing By Dianne Theakston (University of Stirling)

Warm greetings from the Critical Urbanist’s housing and disability theme. This thematic group will concentrate upon the key feature of applied theory and practice. This has played a crucial role within the enhancement of disabled peoples’ access to independent living. For instance, in 1990 Michael Oliver’s book “The Politics of Disablement” signalled the gradual emergence of disability studies as a recognised academic discipline in the UK. Oliver highlighted that disabled peoples’ full participation within society was hindered by environmental, financial, political, communicational and attitudinal barriers.

It also set out the social model of disability which was first enshrined by the Union of Physically Impaired against Segregation’s (UPIAS) corner stone (1976) document “Founding principles of the social model of disability”. Thus, disablement was shifted away from an individual’s impairment to the impact of inaccessible/discriminatory external factors. This continual academic and user-lead practice pressure has achieved UK policy change. Examples include the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Community Care (Direct Payments) Act (1996).

As disabled people are one of the most vulnerable groups within societies (WHO, 2011), the role of housing within welfare provides many contentious debates since it can be viewed as a commodity or a public resource. Societal values around disability can be tangibly reflected by what type of housing is built, for whom, where, under what type of finance, and with accessible services or amenities. As disability studies scholars Swaine et al (2004) noted, disabled peoples’ access to independent living requires a holistic perspective across all areas of life. Similarly, this blog will encourage a holistic approach towards housing and disability with attention to knowledge transfer, learning and critical analysis that can be gained from interdisciplinary working.

Imrie (2003), for instance, brought attention to the lack of existing accessible properties as well as the lack of user-involvement throughout the planning process; whilst Pullin’s (2009) “Design meets disability” evoked questions surrounding inclusive design, can we meet the needs of all? Public spaces have also been designed without consideration of access for all (Bull 1998) and today, accessible housing or adaptations are often portrayed as special needs beyond mainstream practices (MacFarlane and Laurie, 1996).

Roulstone and Bish-Mason (2012) point out that there exists a hierarchy of minority group needs. Disability tends to occupy as the lowest priority group. Therefore, this blog aims to develop the endeavours to raise the profile of disability. This has been one of the reasons for setting up the new Working Group for Disability and Housing within the European Network for Housing Research. Seminars, joint publications and research projects are some elements future blog contributors are encouraged to participate in, share and inspire. A call will open on the 1st of January for submissions for papers to our first Working Group event at the 2015 ENHR conference to be held in Lisbon, Portugal.

Looking forward, the disability stream of this Critical Urbanist’s blog aims to provide a platform for individuals from academia, as well as policy and practice to submit contributions which critically assess any aspect of disability and housing. As well as addressing some or all of the themes mentioned above, this blog encourages out-of-the-box contemplation and peer inspiration to provide a critical yet supportive environment for debate. Together, let’s raise the profile of disability within housing studies at local, national and international levels.

Dianne Theakston, PhD researcher, University of Stirling

Citations and links:

Imrie, R., (2003), Housing Quality and the Provision of Accessible Homes, Housing Studies, Vol. 18, (3), 387-408.

MacFarlane, A. and Laurie, L. (1996) Demolishing special needs: principles of non-discriminatory housing. Derby: The British Council of Disabled People.

Oliver M. (1990) The Politics of Disablement. Basingstoke: MacMillan.

Pullin G. (2009) Design meets disability, (Cambridge: The M, I, T Press).

Roulstone, A and Bish-Mason, H (eds) (2012) Disability Hate Crime and Violence11, Routledge).

Swaine J., French S., Barnes C. and Thomas C. (2004) Disabling barriers enabling environments. London: Sage Publications.

UPIAS (1976). Founding principles of the social model of disability. London: Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation.

World Health Organisation (2011) World Health Report 2011. Available: [Retrieved 13 June 2012].