Gemma Pifarré, Head of the Catalan Government’s Department for the Promotion of Accessibility and Removal of Barriers

“The Accessibility Act is the legal framework based on which we must be able to cater for the inclusion of all people”

The head of accessibility policies in Catalonia is currently working on the implementation of a law that establishes minimum conditions so that public spaces, services, transport and communications are adapted for people with disability. The Act was unanimously approved by the Catalan Parliament in October 2014 and now the department headed by Gemma Pifarré is working on the decree that will implement it, in order to promote autonomy, equal opportunities and non-discrimination of people with functional diversity.

Q.- What point are we at in relation to the regulations?

A.- The Act is the legal framework so that accessibility can be implemented to the maximum degree possible. It is necessary to cater for the inclusion of all people and this is an issue that will only grow. We now have the basis that should allow us to make progress through different decrees. An act such as this one generates controversies, because the collective of people with disabilities and business executives do not share the same viewpoint, but it is a feasible starting point. From our Department we are answering many queries: from architects, engineers, neighbourhood communities, technical experts from local councils — and we have a draft decree that needs to be adapted to the new act. In comparison with the Accessibility Code of 1995, it will be more extensive, because other issues are added such as communication, building, urban design, products and services, etc.

Q.- Will a seal of approval be created to accredit good practices in the field of design for all?

A.- Seals of approval accrediting good practices are an incentive and that’s an aspect we will have to develop. A seal is useful because it heightens visibility of those who go further than just meeting minimum requirements, which everyone must do.

Q.- Could Catalonia be a leader in accessibility and become a reference point internationally?

A.- We could be, and, in fact, we are among the leaders. We have a long tradition in this field, we were the first community to develop a decree, in 1984. Organisations for people with disabilities have played an important role here, without them this new step would never have been taken. The regulations have been relegated to the background because this is an issue that we do not always bear sufficiently in mind, yet it is also included in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia.

Q.- What factors might contribute to our progress towards the new social model of diversity?

A.- There are increasing numbers of people with functional diversity: elderly people, people who have suffered accidents, people with degenerative diseases… Demographic changes and active ageing will undoubtedly be an important element: today around 15% of the population are people aged over 65 years, and in 2020 they will represent 20%.

Q.- Are we sufficiently prepared? How important is the role played by the media?

A.- Not everyone is prepared, we ought to start training and recycling professionals. Communication has a very important role to play, but we need to tackle training at the universities, of both students and teachers alike. Architects, engineers, product designers, interior designers… We are already working with universities to heighten the visibility of accessibility. Right now there is a great lack of knowledge.

Q.- Is the business fabric in line with this whole phenomenon?

A.- Companies are in line because the regulations exist. The tourism sector is increasing its awareness and inspectors are enforcing compliance with the regulations, but it is not always an easy task. It is relatively easy to construct new buildings to be accessible, but converting an old building, with all the features and modern additions, is complicated.

Q.- What can we expect in the coming years?

A.- The aim is that physical and communication environments be accessible to all. This cannot be done overnight and there will always be things that cannot be, but it is important to advance. Accessibility management is extremely important: you know where you can call, where you can obtain what you need… And training too, it is necessary to provide training through universities and technical experts so that people learn about accessibility, digest it and incorporate it. We want to do this sustainably but while working like ants: relentlessly.

Work: “Contes” 1986, Joan Brossa

If you found this interview interesting we would like you to share it with your social networking.