Discussion on turning radius is missing the point

A proposal to reduce the turning radius requirements with 20 centimetres has set fire to a heated media debate in the Nordic countries. At Funka we believe that the discussion is missing the point.

One of the debated topics in the Nordic countries during this spring has been the minimum requirement for the turning radius (the surface required to enable wheelchair users to turn around).

The debate started when the Norwegian Government presented a proposal to reduce the turning radius requirement in homes as a way to simplify and reduce costs for the construction industry. The Swedish legislation has been used as an argument to reduce the requirements from 150 to 130 centimetres, but this information is based on a misunderstanding. The Swedish rules state that 130 centimetres is sufficient in private homes (indoor wheelchairs), but in all public areas the standard requirement is 150 centimetres (outdoor wheelchairs), just as in many other European countries.

Requirements carved in stone

Motorized wheelchairs are becoming increasingly smaller. That means that the turning space eventually will become smaller, some wheelchairs can already today turn on their own axis.  At the same time many wheelchair users require more space to turn around depending on individual differences in mobility, length and other factors. The law sets minimum requirements, but in many aspects it is often better to build higher standards than the requirements.

On the other side lays both economical and humanistic arguments to ensure that the community is designed for all as far as possible. The demographic trend of an increasing number of older people means that we can look forward to more wheelchair users in the future. The politics are steering society towards enabling older people to live at home longer, which of course require universally designed houses – and assumes that the construction sector are working towards the same goal.

Having said this, we believe that this kind of discussion is missing out on the point. Instead of attempting to reduce the requirements, the construction sector should start to focus on quality and innovation. You get the feeling that the whole construction industry is so conservative that they would prefer us to be living in mud huts. Constructive solutions that enable more people to use the environment should be a competitive advantage – not a problem.

The question we should be asking ourselves is not whether we can afford to build new homes with a turning radius of 150 centimetres, but what kind of society one of the world’s richest countries would like to have? Which individuals are we excluding just by having this debate? And more specifically – what should we say to someone that cannot join our party because we live in a house where the wheelchair cannot enter? That is a relevant question.

Susanna Laurin, CEO and Tommy Hagström, Accessibility Expert in built environment