Improved Swedish Accessibility Hindered by a Housing Imbroglio

Jonas E. Andersson


The quest to make Sweden accessible for all has a long tradition. Stemming from initiatives of charitable organisations in the early 20th century, accessibility became a physical requirement through the Swedish building act of the 1960s. It promoted a type of physical barrier-free architecture for the welfare state. The socio-political ambitions of the 1970s propelled Sweden to become a world-leading nation in the creation of equal opportunities and social inclusion. Architectural design was expected to meet the demands of people with cognitive, physical or sensory disabilities and, on signing the UN convention on equal rights for persons with disabilities in 2007, existing legislative frameworks were complemented with additional guidelines on removing physical barriers. By focusing on the national tripartite definition of accessibility, Sweden has paid little attention to the development of the universal design concept. Instead, accessibility has been associated with the elusive concept of usability in order to promote a user-environment fit. Since 2013, the increasing shortage of housing in densely populated areas has impeded work to create an accessible and inclusive welfare state and has fostered the notion that accessibility increases building costs. This study provides an overview of the Swedish development of accessibility in order to promote participation and social inclusion by removing physical barriers in the built environment and introducing user-oriented assistive technologies.

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