The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995 is not, as some people seem to think, a set of regulations for wheelchair users. It covers people who have physical disabilities, sight and hearing impairments, and learning and mental disabilities. There are more than eight million disabled people in the UK and, as the population ages, the number is growing. So this is not an act protecting a small minority.
The act already gives rights, among other things, to access to goods, facilities and services. By October this year, organisations have to have made reasonable changes to the physical features of their premises to overcome barriers to access. There has been uncertainty about the meaning of 'reasonable' and whether this applies to every organisation.
There is no doubt that architects have to be thoughtful about access to their buildings, the range of impairments and how people suffering from them can be accommodated.
The difficulty is finding a solution without pointing up their special disability in a way that could be deemed discriminatory.
One of the big disability issues is access.
Keith Munden of BPT Security Systems says that some architects do not like the idea of a big door-entry panel, even though this would be an immediate solution to the problem of multiple disability access. Door panels, Munden says, 'can be supplied in high colour contrasts and the buttons can be illuminated for visually impaired people and embossed in Braille'. And he advocates the use of digital panels, which are much smaller than analogue panels with their array of individual buttons.
Mounting heights for door-entry panels are also an area of controversy, as is the effort required to open a door, which may conflict with the normal door-closer's strength.
Munden recommends proximity control systems such as BPT's Imro Multi Scan II, which uses radio frequency energy and unique codes. The use of this system means that the disabled person does not have to use hand or wrist actions to enter buildings.