Get your Act together
From the beginning of this month, providers of goods, facilities and services will have to demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide alternative means of avoiding physical features that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use or access their services. The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) now applies to employers with any number of employees.
The assessment of what is 'reasonable' includes assessing the costs, benefits and practicalities of making the adjustments. All architects should have carried out a full access audit of their property portfolios to assess which properties do not comply, and will have highlighted those areas of non-compliance. The next step is to identify potential solutions with costs. By now, all should be ready with prepared programmes for implementation.
For any service provider who has not even got to the access audit stage, we have drawn up a generic list to check that your own house is in order and your designs for others - but note that this is no substitute for a full access audit. Please copy the checklist below and use it to identify access considerations.
Each feature should be assessed on a range of disability criteria including, inter alia, wheelchair use, ambulant disability, visual and auditory impairment, limited dexterity and cognitive difficulties (learning difficulties, etc).
We recommend that items be ticked off, but also that comments be written on the form to explain your chosen actions (or lack of action). The audit should then prioritise action, based on the safety, expense (identify whether minor or major budget costs), regulatory requirements and general best-practice criteria.
In the service industry, the general focus appears to be on level access at the main entrance/s and assisting disabled customers in navigating stores.
An architect should advise individual service providers how to use these access audits to prioritise and properly programme the identified works, thereby demonstrating intent and - once again - that key word: 'reasonableness'.
John Patterson is an architect at Styles & Wood's StorePlanning division