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Access for all

technical & practice

With Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act due to come into force in 2004, this four-page CPD supplement shows how to respond responsibly to the new provisions On 1 October 2004, the final stage of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) comes into force. The final part, Part III, relates to goods, facilities and the provision of services.

Under this legislation, businesses (and other service providers) will have to ensure that physical features do not make access to their services impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people. Effectively it will be illegal under Part III of the Act for a service provider to treat a disabled person less favourably than others when providing a service.

It is important that architects make clients aware of the need to prepare for these new duties as soon as possible. Changes to physical features may be much more straightforward if built into a planned refurbishment programme.

The key question to address in assessing one's potential liability is of making 'reasonable adjustment'. Particular structural, spatial or financial constraints can be justifiable reasons to determine that certain adjustments are 'unreasonable' - provided that they have been appraised by a thorough audit and checked by an independent assessment. As with health and safety assessments, provided all reasonable efforts have been made to address a problem, the service provider/client may be deemed to have discharged his/her duties. It should be also be remembered that these provisions relate to access to the particular services provided by the client; not necessarily the building.

The Centre for Accessible

Environments notes that since the introduction of Part II of the DDA, on 2 December 1996, which relates to employment provisions, more than 5,000 cases under the Act were taken to employment tribunals by April 1999. Some people, it seems, still refuse to act reasonably.

Enabling people to move freely and easily through a building requires that doorways between rooms, leading to corridors, into toilets and lift areas can be negotiated with ease. Fire doors and panic exits to the outside of the building need to be considered carefully as many traditional installations are a potential threat to the safety of disabled people.

Automatic doors for internal or external use should be tailored precisely to the specific requirements of an application, but normally ensuring that it they are suitable for heavy use and are light enough to operate. There will however, be circumstances where different criteria are more appropriate and where this is the case it is important to look at other characteristics of the door, such as closers and handles, and choose appropriately.

Door closers should ensure that the resistance encountered when opening the door decreases almost instantly with the opening action.

This makes it easier for children, the elderly and those with physical disabilities to open the door. For those of a more frail or less mobile disposition, electro-magnetic door closers can hold a door open at any angle between 75-180infinity and provide another possibility in the search for accessible entrances. They are also suitable for fire doors, as they can be used with a smoke detector and control unit or linked with a fire alarm system so that they will close securely in the event of a fire.

Choosing lever-action handles that have a smooth operation, provide a secure grip and are correctly positioned for easy reach is another way to make the operation of a door easier. Such simple measures to assist accessibility can be a straightforward, reasonable and cost-effective means of complying with the essence of the legislation. It is essential that a door handle can be held comfortably in one hand, without grasping it and without twisting the wrist. It should also contrast in colour and luminance with the surface of the door for easy identification by visually impaired people.

With so much information and many practical remedies now available, complying with the requirements of the DDA should not be difficult for any client. Building owners and occupiers must take a systematic approach, looking at the building as a whole, and then focusing on specific areas and routes into and around the building. By devising a solution for each area individually, the whole building will become more accessible to all those who work in it and who visit it.

Historic buildings

The DDA does not overrule listed building consent (or ecclesiastical controls), planning permission, building regulations approval or other statutory duties. It should be recognised, for example, that access to all historic buildings may not be possible - it would be unreasonable to assume otherwise.

Thus, doors and doors openings need not necessarily be modified in line with Part M, but where retained (on the understanding that they are a restriction on disabled access), other measures should be considered. For example, colour or tactile contrast between handles and background or installing a motorized opening system, often make a big difference but do not affect detrimentally the character of the building.

Benefits of aiding access

The requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 should by now be familiar to most service providers in order for premises to be fully prepared for the introduction of the Act in 2004.

Inevitably though, there are some people who are still not sure what 'reasonable adjustments'should be made to their premises.

Within the retail sector, the term 'service providers'encompasses not only all high street stores but also includes banks, building societies, cinemas, sports stadia, pubs and restaurants as well.All these businesses offer a service to the public and will be required by the Act to provide the same service to disabled and ablebodied customers equally.

The Act protects the rights of a wide range of people with sensory, mental or physical disabilities.

This includes, among other things, people who use wheelchairs, blind and partially sighted people, deaf people, people with arthritis, people with long-term illnesses and people with learning disabilities. In fact, the Act exists to provide an accessible environment for everybody, and that even includes ablebodied people in certain circumstances, such as parents with pushchairs and shoppers laden down with carrier bags.

Nevertheless, the image of a disabled person as someone in a wheelchair persists in most people's minds.Recent research by the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) found that around two-thirds of businesses over-estimate the proportion of disabled people who use wheelchairs: the number is, in fact, fewer than five per cent.Because of this misconception, the most commonly made alteration to a building is the provision of wheelchair ramps with relatively few businesses thinking of improving things for those with impaired sight or hearing, for example.

Significantly, however, the DRC's research also found that eight out of 10 businesses predicted a positive impact on long-term profits as a direct result of improving access for disabled people.This is certainly true. By a liberal interpretation of what disability means, the spending power of disabled people in Britain today has been estimated at around £40 billion a year, and businesses which fail to provide access for disabled people may be losing out.

Businesses therefore should look at their buildings individually, assessing the accessibility needs of the people who will work there and those who will be visiting.Critically, it should be remembered that making a building accessible is a requirement that applies throughout the building - creating an accessible entrance from the street is not the end of the matter.Simon Chapman, DDA product specialist, DORMA

CASE STUDY: Buckinghamshire libraries

Buckinghamshire County Council is modifying the entrance doors to all of its libraries as part of a drive to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).

'Quite apart from the legal requirements of the DDA, we felt that we had an obligation to undertake the work, 'explains Peter Edington, operational maintenance manager for Buckinghamshire County Council.

Having carried out an access audit of all of its building stock, using its own checklist developed in conjunction with local accessibility groups and district council representatives, it costed the various options to develop a viable programme of works.'Obviously there are budgetary constraints', says Edington, 'and, since we don't hold the purse strings within our section of the county council, we have to ensure that our programme of works is achievable' in financial, as well as structural and logistical terms.

He continues: 'As a public library, it is essential that our facilities can be accessed by everybody and, having used automatic doors* last year when we made alterations to the entrance to Aylesbury County Hall offices, we knew that they could provide us with a solution.'Effectively, comprising a simple push button mechanism to open the door, it can be used by those who deem it necessary while not preventing the door being used by other, more able-bodied persons.

The final part of the DDA, which will come into force in October 2004, requires that service providers make reasonable adjustments to their premises in order to offer 'access to all', but many organisations and businesses are planning ahead, particularly where renovations are needed anyway, to avoid missing the deadline.

Even though Buckinghamshire's refurbishment programme will extend 'way beyond'2004, the fact that the council has initiated a rolling programme of works to address the perceived and audited access issues should not count against the authority in any litigious challenge.

By keeping an audit trail of all decisions and maintaining transparency throughout, this should count as a 'reasonable'defence.

*DORMA's ED 200 swing door system and ED 800 door operator

References

Code of Practice: Rights of Access: Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises, published by The Stationery Office, 1999, £12.95.This provides detailed advice on the way the law should work, together with practical examples and tips. Its status means that it must be referred to for guidance in court when deciding on DDA Part III cases.

Designing for Accessibility: an essential guide for public buildings, published by CAE,1999 edition with a new section on the DDA, £15.

Access Audits: a guide and checklists for appraising the accessibility of buildings, published by CAE,1999, £20 (includes the 1999 edition of Designing for Accessibility).

Centre for Accessible Environments, Tel 020 7357 8182.

Read also http: //www. cae. org. uk/ abd_articles/ section21. html for more details and the legal implications.

Visit www. dwp. gov. uk/publications/ dss/2001/disdiscrimact CPD

Questionnaire

Architects are required to undertake continuous professional development (CPD) research. Every corporate member of the RIBA must do at least 35 hours of CPD a year. Of this, up to 17 hours can be general reading and research which must be documented in your professional development plan (PDP).

At present, the RIBA's policy is to monitor a random sample of practices at the end of each year, asking to see the record sheets and PDPs of RIBA members. It states that 'practices which, after a series of requests, fail to provide evidence of satisfactory training could be dropped from the register'.

Answering Dorma's generalstudy questionnaire will be deemed, in concert with reading the preceding article and the necessary research to answer the questions, to represent one hour of general CPD research.

Individuals sending or faxing completed questionnaires to Dorma will receive a CPD statement of compliance to that effect, provided that a score of 25 or more has been achieved.

Available scores are indicated in brackets.

1List six service providers that are exempt from compliance with the DDA. (6)

2What is the Disability Rights Commission? (4)

3Name four things that should be included on an access audit. (4)

4What is a physical disability under the Act? (2)

5What percentage of 'service providers'are believed to have no premises or premises that are not open to the public? (2)

6What is the title of BS8300? (1)

7What is the minimum clear internal door opening width stated in Approved Document Part M? (1)

8What is a 'low energy door'? (3)

9Closing devices fitted to single swing fire doors should conform to the requirements of which BS EN Standard? (2)

10What is the minimum recommended diameter for a door handle to assist ease of use? (2) Name Telephone Address Postcode E-mail

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