DDA 'compliance' is ultimately impossible
With regard to your article entitled 'Get your Act together' (AJ 7.10.04) on complying with the Disability Discrimination Act, the content is misleading. It is not necessary for all architects to have fully audited their portfolios, nor can a property be described as being 'non-compliant'. There are no strict technical criteria against which a building or environment will be judged, nor would I recommend the use of generic audits, which I will explain further.
It is true that in relation to access to services there is an anticipatory nature, and service providers should have assessed their service provision and taken reasonable steps to ensure equality of service.
To achieve this, the process starts with an access statement by a company director as to the ethos of their company and level of inclusion that is required in relation to the function of their business.
Then an analysis of the service and employment provisions within a company should be completed, followed by a similar exercise with regard to its operational policies. This will include both risk and commercial considerations.
Creating the methodology will require setting the relevant design criteria. There are a variety of good-practice guidance documents and those referred to should relate to the function of the building. For instance, a school may wish to review Part M, BS8300, Building Bulletins and other sector guidance such as Sport England's 'Access for Disabled People', and the requirements of their local authority, including the Unitary Development Plan and their access officer.
Once the criteria have been established, an audit should be carried out to identify the barriers in relation to the sequential journey of all users. This should be tailor-made as described above and may vary for different buildings, parts of buildings or environment within a site.
Then, as the piece describes, this should be viewed against maintenance budgets, planned programmes of work and a prioritisation strategy developed.
I return again to my greatest concern, which is the use of the words 'comply with' or 'compliance'. While you cannot comply, the duty under the act is not to discriminate against an individual on the basis of their disability. Be under no illusions - the act is retrospective and is evolving, and it is impossible to provide a compliant building.
What is expected is that service providers will have reviewed their service provision and implemented reasonable measures that may include physical alterations.
Architects, on the other hand, do not have a responsibility to audit buildings unless they are the service provider within those buildings. Architects should have, under due diligence, advised clients as to their liabilities and provided a building for the client fit for its purpose with a knowledge of technical guidance consummate with that which would be expected of them.
It would, in certain circumstances, be appropriate for a client to employ an access consultant, who will have the skills to balance the regulatory and contractual requirements of the construction and environment and related technical guidance with the diversity and individuality of people.
Further guidance on the role of the access consultant can be found within the document 'Inclusive Projects', located on the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Commitee's website at www. dptac. gov. uk/inclusive/ guide/index. htm Jane Simpson, RIBA specialist practice adviser