Living inclusion: Accessibility benefits everyone

We got to know Hans-Peter Matt in a seminar in the Black Forest region in Germany. He has been in a wheelchair since an accident thirty years ago - and knows, what he is talking about, when it comes to accessibility. As a visionary and cross-thinker, he works with his consulting office on design of solutions that are not only inclusive, but also economically and esthetically appealing. Matt's motto: “Accessibility is attractive for everyone!

On the picture Hans-Peter Matt is on the way in NP Black Forest with 4 other people. Hans-Peter and one other person are in wheelchairs, all others on foot.
Hans-Peter Matt (left in the picture) is founder of the consulting office mahp-barrierefrei and one of the most recognized experts for accessibility in Germany.

Hans-Peter, the topic of accessibility is not new in itself. However, implementation is faltering at many points. What could be the reason?

From my point of view, the main problem lies in the fact that people often try to find special solutions for disabled people. This is basically wrong. The best solutions are those that benefit all users. Only when people understand that accessibility has advantages for everyone, the added value of the changes becomes visible.

Can any region become barrier-free?

Yes and no. I have been active as a consultant in the Black Forest for more than ten years - first in the nature park, and starting from 2014, in the at that time designated national park. Of course, there will always be obstacles for people with limited mobility in a natural landscape. However, nowadays there are many ways to remove barriers. The important thing is to improve the conditions for all guests in the national park and not to create stigmatizing special solutions.

Thanks to your expertise, several nature trails in Germany have already become more accessible. What is important to consider when planning barrier-free nature offers?

The first question must always be: barrier-free for whom? I cannot and do not want to change nature! Accessibility must fit into nature where it is possible. The usage always remains individual and should be worked out locally in different areas and continuously reassessed. Therefore, I have to find the right tools or to have them at hand to get along in nature. This means asking oneself further questions: Which tools are available to me? Who am I travelling with? What are the challenges or barriers in this specific area? The important thing is that the best solutions can usually be found only involving affected and experts into the selection of suitable tools and measures at an early stage.

In the Black Forest National Park, the cooperation of the National Park with representatives of people with disabilities seems to work very well. Was it a long process?

As you describe it yourself, the Black Forest National Park exists since 2014. Since the very beginning, the topic of accessibility and inclusion has been considered as an accompanying cross-cutting process. It is not a project that defines itself with a beginning or an end. The entire process is made up of smaller or larger - and ongoing individual projects and is always landscape-related and individually designed.

Mahp-barrierefrei has developed a rating system that helps in the analysis and implementation of measures for more accessibility.

Keyword here is help for self-help and self-assessment. More than 10 years ago, I developed a rating system and realized it for the first time at the "NaTouren für Alle", a project in the Black Forest. It has proven and established itself here. Later on, other offers were evaluated and constantly improved in this way.

In addition to the involvement of those affected and experts, what else is particularly important in the transition to more accessibility?

Networks are indispensable if the concept of barrier-free experience of nature wants to have a long-term impact. More attention must be paid to the service chain around nature experience offers: Are there barrier-free overnight accommodation offers? Where can I borrow aids? Are there barrier-free WC facilities (also outdoor) or how can I get to a nature experience destination by public transport? Ideally, of course, all offers should be collected under the same conditions and advertised under a uniform label. So, there is still a lot to do and to get on the way.

Information in easy language, a barrier-free website, pictogram use for different user groups, even guided tours in sign language are already a reality in the Black Forest. What are the next steps you want to go in the National Park?

For people with mobility restrictions, a lot has already happened here that can serve as an example to other parks. However, there is still a lot to be done - I am thinking, for example, of inclusive offers for people with sensory or cognitive impairments. We absolutely must work on this further. Here, too, we need to get inclusive offerings on the road.

Dear Hans-Peter, thank you so much for the exciting interview and good luck for your future work!

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