We are all physically disabled at some time in our lives. A child, a person with a broken leg, a parent with a pram, an elderly person, etc. are all disabled in one way or another. Those who remain healthy and able bodied all their lives are few. As far as the built-up environment is concerned, it is important that it should be barrier-free and adapted to fulfill the needs of all people equally. As a matter of fact, the needs of the disabled coincide with the needs of the majority, and all people are at ease with them. As such, planning for the majority implies 
planning for people with varying abilities and disabilities.
From 1945 landscapes rapidly became more urbanised. The existing disabled population was increased by 300,000 war-disabled people and mobility and access in towns and cities were now urgent issues. How could disabled people work and participate in society using the complex buildings, difficult entrances and exits, steps, stairs, kerbs, busy roads and transport systems of the modern urban environment?
At this time barely any buildings were designed with disabled people in mind. Then in 1956, a young newly qualified architect called Selwyn Goldsmith
(1932-2011) became disabled through polio, and he devoted the rest of his life to overcoming what he called ‘architectural disability’. He challenged the ‘institutional discrimination’ of buildings which placed barriers in the way of disabled people who wanted to use them. And not just people using wheelchairs, but also blind people, deaf people, the walking disabled, indeed anyone who had difficulty negotiating buildings. His ‘Designing for the Disabled’ was the first guidance for architects on disability access and it quickly became an indispensable teaching aid for architects and local authority planners. It is still used today.
In 1964, Goldsmith
selected Norwich as a representative English city and went to live there for three years. He interviewed 284 people with disabilities, asking them which types of building should be made easier for disabled people to use. The highest priority by far was public toilets. The other types of building mentioned, restaurants, local shops, churches, reflected the desire of disabled people simply to lead the ordinary lives that other people led. Goldsmith’s interviews resulted in England’s first unisex, disabled-access public toilet, 15 ramped kerbs around the city, a feature invented by Selwyn, now standard around the world, and a revised edition of ‘Designing for the Disabled’. In 2004, new design and landscaping features made the Tower of London (a World Heritage site) accessible.
Until tomorrow: A somebody was once a nobody who wanted to and did.