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Access for all

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The Building Regulations Part M tells providers exactly what they have to do to conform with the law, writes Peter Randall. The DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) in contrast is broad, US-style legislation which sets out principles but no prescriptions, just a requirement for reasonable provision. It sounds admirable at first glance to have a law which applies to all buildings but many people are worried that the establishment of case law could provide ample work for lawyers and expert witnesses but leave building owners confused and result in the spoiling of good existing buildings in the process. These fears could be alleviated if the Disability Rights Commission proves to be 'reasonable', and the promised Codes of Practice are revelatory.

Although John Penton takes a completely uncritical view of this situation surrounding the DDA, his book* is to be welcomed by architects and will be most valuable to its large audience of those concerned with building management.

The title is encouraging in identifying precisely its intended audience - building owners, facility managers and architects - but there is a conspicuous lack of an introduction. The author goes straight into the first of four main sections, putting the DDA usefully in historical context. Section 2 provides a description of the Act and identification of the need for access appraisals (new work) and audits (existing situations). Although there is much useful information here, the structure of the Act itself could have been more clearly presented at the beginning of the section, so reducing the inclination to go out and buy a copy of the Act for £9.25.

Section 3 introduces checklists for carrying out access appraisals and audits on site, which are detailed in a substantial appendix. This appendix is the real meat of the book. The checklists are excellent but fall short of providing a methodology for the review of information, for cost assessment and implementation strategies.

The fourth section gives design guidance and includes many attractive, informative diagrams. You can get similar advice elsewhere, some of it in the Building Regulations themselves. Other sources will be more informative in some areas, less so in others. But generally, this is a good guide to present practice in improving accessibility. What we really need is an up-to-date and comprehensive dimensional guide to keep next to the PC or drawing board.

It would be unfair to be too critical of a book which, basically, introduces the post-DDA world to building owners. While architects will find detailed summaries of dimensional criteria, eyebrows may rise at the occasional arbitrary suggestion, for example, that the alternative wrought-iron pull handle illustrated might be `more visually sympathetic for use with historic fabric', or at the elaboration felt necessary to insert a lift to rise one metre in a historic building.

Penton's book will be useful to architects and invaluable to building owners but they should have been given a more discursive assessment of the vagaries of the present situation and their likely obligations.

Peter Randall is a former director of PRP Architects.

* The Disability Discrimination Act: Inclusion: A workbook for building owners, facility managers and architects. John H Penton. RIBA Publications. £25

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