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Breaking down barriers Help in following an access-for-all approach was on offer at Naidex, the exhibition for the disabled community BY BARRIE EVANS

The idea of designing an environment that is accessible to all, without special provision for different sectors of the community, is at the extreme an impossible dream. But it is worth working towards to make buildings more accessible to more people and to avoid stigmatising what is a growing proportion of the population. This includes the recognisably disabled but also a growing number of elderly infirm and others disabled by the difficulty of using buildings. Before long the uk will have more people over 65 than children.

The appearance of the annual Naidex exhibition at the nec is not of an access-for-all show, with its emphasis not only on buildings but also on equipment for use by carers. Hoists, special beds, tracked wheelchairs that go down stairs (see illustration) and a wheelchair test track were among the exhibits. Impact-absorbing crutches won the New Product Showcase. But two showers were also among the Showcase finalists.

Eurocare Showers was shortlisted for its very shallow shower trays for providing level-access showers. And Tile Deck was shortlisted for its retrofit system for level-access showers. If the existing flooring is thick enough, say 25mm square-edged boards, it should be possible to retrofit a shower without cutting into the joists. Neatdek is another retrofit (and new) level-access shower range, from Go Independent. This firm also offers a wide range of accessible bathroom fittings, as does Autumn Mobility.

Altro Floors showed its new Prismatic Plus range of slip-resistant sheet flooring with silicon carbide particles in the surface. Coloured quartz particles in the body of the sheet also aid slip-resistance and give a flecked appearance - there are 11 colourways in the range. The flooring is tankable, thus suitable where hygiene and spillage-containment are needed.

Obtaining stairlifts is often a long process. To address this, Thyssen has introduced a new straight stairlift package. The innovation is in its modularity, with off-the-shelf components. Thyssen says that the on- site fitting time can be as little as one hour.

Thyssen's curved stairlifts remain custom-built, in its case mounted on the stair treads rather than wall-hung.

For a low-rise platform lift, up to 600mm rise, there is the Power Step from gst Systems. It provides a small platform for a standing individual or wheelchair. Not a very elegant product, though it is portable - it can be mains or battery powered.

ThorWorld Industries produces the 2000 range of portable access ramps for wheelchair use. Its background is in industrial goods handing; the straight and fold-up ramps do look a bit over-engineered. But ThorWorld will make to measure.

Atkinson Vari-tech produces a range of adjustable-height furniture - kitchen working surfaces, sinks, wall cupboards, ironing boards, tables, desks, drawing boards, even table-top pool tables. Adjustment is by hand- winding.

Appraisals and audits

cae- the Centre for Accessible Environments - recently won a contract to develop a national register of access consultants. The first steps are to look at the current practice of access consultants and to establish agreed practice standards and accreditation. More generally, cae provides a good first source of guidance on design for accessibility, as its web site shows.

Eurocare Showers, tel 01222 881051,; Tile Deck, tel 01886 832855; Go Independent, tel 0151 920 4627,; Autumn Mobility, tel 0161 633 1552; Altro Floors, tel 01462 480480,; Thyssen, tel 0116 236 4320,; gst Systems, tel 01302 752223,; ThorWorld Industries, tel 01246 260981,; Atkinson Vari-tech, tel 01254 678777; cae tel 0171 357 8182,

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