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Accessing audit work

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A rigorous accreditation process might prevent architects from jumping on the disability audit bandwagon

The government-sponsored National Register of Access Consultants (NRAC) has just been launched, and architects are invited to become members.

Demand for access audits and design appraisals is increasingly pressing with the deadline for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act relating to 'premises' due in October 2004. It will only become clear through case law whether non-compliance after that date can be blamed on lack of adequate auditing in the lead up to construction.

NRAC manager Mary Noble says the intention of the register is to provide a rigorous basis for accreditation, given that there are expected to be a number of inexperienced architects 'getting on to the bandwagon and carrying out inadequate access audits'.

Since its launch in mid September, 24 practices have been admitted and the NRAC is in discussions with the RIBA Clients' Advisory Service to have these members' details passed on to enquirers. Similarly, the NRAC will make the names of registered practices and individuals available on request, although it will not be selecting or recommending consultants for clients. The register will provide clients with a list of members who have the qualifications and experience that meet the clients' criteria.

However, there is still nothing stopping anyone sett ing themselves up as access auditors.

The process for inclusion on the register includes an initial application pack including CVs and testimonials, a selection process and a final interview by experts in the field of disability legislation.

An examination is not necessary, although annual CPD courses are mandatory.

There are certain conflicts between different disability compliances, (as Noble suggests, designing for 'claustrophobics and agoraphobics') or because of the potential inability to comply with all requirements, (having to step up on sloping sites). The designer and client have only to show that they have made reasonable steps to comply with the requirements, in the same way that the CDM Regulations require health and safety problems to be 'designed out' - where possible.

There are two categories of full membership: 'access consultants' are registered to undertake both problem identifying and problem-solving work, whereas 'access auditors' can undertake problemidentifying only.

The initial application cost is £125 and consultants will be required to pay £200 per year for a full NRAC marketing service or £100 per year for their qualification only.

For more information about the National Register of Access Consultants, visit its website at www.nrac.org.uk or telephone Mary Noble on 020 7234 0434

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