In the early 1980s, I first read Kalle Könkkölä’s (1950-2018, human rights activist with a severe mobility disability) thoughts that even a severely disabled person is not disabled, if the environment in which he lives is constructed in such a way that the physical limitations imposed by his disability do not impede his activities in practice. I was learning to live with my own physical limitations at the time, and I could hardly imagine what Kalle meant by these ideas. Now that my physical limitations no longer leave me much choice and I am completely independent only at home, Kalle’s thoughts are obvious.

This has become increasingly clear over the past few months, as I’ve watched the Bros of Decay YouTube channel’s explorations of abandoned castles and mansions in Europe and America. With their antique furnishings, tableware and equipment worth millions, the fairy-tale castles are undeniably beautiful to behold. But they only functioned as living environments as long as the inhabitants could adapt to the restrictions of their surroundings or employ servants to compensate for their physical limitations.

The Bros of Decay explorations have highlighted the fact that accessibility is not just about the physical environment. Old castles and mansions are not just an environment that is a mobility nightmare. There is a spiritual/mental aspect, which is at least as important. In fact, it is more important, because thoughts and attitudes create the physical world in which we live.

Imagine being born into a family where your parents have already decided, possibly before you were born, who you will marry. Or that your family has 300 years of family history and your mission in life is to uphold the family’s traditions, reputation and honour. In modern times, we are largely free from these shackles of the past and people are cherishing their individuality. However, the presenter of the Bros of Decay videos, as well as some of the conversations, sometimes glorify how wonderful it must have been to live in a magnificent castle or mansion surrounded by beautiful things.

Many people think that today’s simplistic, functional architecture and design is ugly. But I believe there is nothing more beautiful than an environment that meets the needs of all, where everyone is free to activate their inner resources and contribute constructively to the collective creation. We are no longer shackled by the past to the extent that we once were, but peaceful coexistence is still hampered by many artificial barriers. These are false perceptions, rules and regulations that hinder constructive cooperation as effectively as physical barriers. We should focus on removing them as vigorously as we do on removing barriers to free trade.