The year 1999 will undoubtedly be seen as a watershed year in the ac-hievement of access to the built environment for people with disabilities.
After sustained resistance from the National House Builders Council for more than ten years, Part M of the Building Regulations has been amended to require that most new housing must have level, or ramped, access and sufficient interior space to enable a wheelchair to be manoeuvred and an entry-level wc to be used.
The relationship between Part M and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Disability Discrimination (Employment ) Regulations 1996 has been clarified. New Sections 6 to 10 of the Approved Document set out what the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions considers to be reasonable provisions in new dwellings. The references to standards and other publications have been updated, but essentially the guidance on buildings other than dwellings remains largely unchanged from the 1992 edition, except for a note referring to more recent guidance on the design of stadia.
One of the more subtle, but significant, changes in the 1999 edition of Approved Document M is in the preamble 'Use of Guidance'. There now remains only the statement that, 'Thus there is no obligation to adopt any particular solution contained in an Approved Document if you prefer to meet the requirement in some other way.'
This has special significance in relation to Section 4.12 and Diagram 16 of the 1999 edition, which continues to reproduce the Wheelchair wc compartment layout as set out in BS5810:1979. It shows a dimension of 500mm from the centre of the wc pan to the adjoining wall on which support rails are mounted.
It is now widely acknowledged that that dimension is excessive for anyone making a lateral transfer to or from a wheelchair and that it should preferably be 400mm or even 375mm. Architects should now be able to design wc compartment layouts incorporating this modification without having to seek documentary evidence to justify the change to obdurate Building Control officers.
Sections 6 to 10, concerned specifically with guidance in relation to dwellings, are hardly onerous, and represent little more than basic good practice in housing design. The Approved Document recognises however that, 'It will not always be practical for the wheelchair to be fully accommodated within the wc compartment.' The implications of this are illustrated in Diagrams 24 and 25. Even at this minimal level of provision it should be possible to ensure that new houses are at least 'visitable' by people with disabilities even if more extensive facilities would be needed for permanent occupancy by them.
A further significant change is that Part M now supersedes Design Note 18, Access for Disabled People to Educational Buildings of 1984, subject to overriding variations concerning escape routes, ramps and sanitary fittings as set out in the current Department for Education and Employment (dfee) Constructional Standards. These standards are incorporated in the newly pub- lished dfee Building Bulletin 91, Access for disabled people to school buildings - management and design guide, the particular significance of which is that it takes the form of a building and facilities management manual for school governors responding to their new responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (dda).
If the changes to the Building Regulations are important, the implementation of Part III, Rights of access, goods, facilities and services of the Discrimination Act on 1 October was even more so. It triggered a five-year period until October 2004 when the final provisions of the Act in relation to 'Premises' will come fully into force. The provisions of the Act will, increasingly, extend beyond those of the Building Regulations, to extensions, refurbishment and to facilities management and how buildings are operated; the entire built environment is affected.
The definitions of people with disabilities in the Act are far broader than those contained in the Part M Approved Document, and it will become evident in due course that a building which received Building Regulation Approval may still be ruled deficient by the courts if it can be shown to be discriminatory. In that event clients will inevitably turn to their architect to seek redress. As a body of court judgements builds up, professional indemnity insurers will become increasingly sensitive to this new area of design liability.
Indeed, that sensitivity is already apparent in a number of contexts. All government invitations to tender for Private Finance Initiative (PFI) schemes and for the appointment of facilities-management teams now require the inclusion of arrangements for responding to the provisions of the dda. During the design development and construction of such projects it is now only prudent to put in place a well recorded process of 'accessibility appraisal' throughout all stages of the works. Such a process will quickly be recognised as similar to the operation of cdm.
With all other buildings in public use, whether construction is taking place or not, a legal defence of 'reasonableness' may well be achieved if, at this stage an 'accessibility audit' is prepared to identify what alterations, and changes in management practices, will be required to ensure that the provisions of the Act are being responded to by October 2004.
Interestingly, experience is already beginning to show that a well-prepared accessibility audit report can be a particularly valuable facilities-management tool. It may well be that the implementation of its recommendations will demonstrate the capacity to achieve benefits generally which far outweigh costs.
CENTRE FOR ACCESSIBLE ENVIRONMENTS (CAE)
Nutmeg House, 60 Gainsford Street, London SE1 2NY, tel 0171 357 8182, fax 0171 357 8183
The centre is open to membership and offers information services and training in relation to disability and built environments. It also offers an extensive range of publications and can provide in-house training.
It currently has the responsibility from the Government for setting up a register of qualified and experienced access auditors which should be in place before the end of 2000. The centre has also assisted in setting up training courses at Portsmouth University, and at the University of Reading, both of which provide for part-time attendance and distance learning. Qualification on either course will be an appropriate route for joining the approved register.
Designing for Accessibility - an introductory guide
Tessa Palfreyman, 1993 (currently under revision )
Specifiers' Handbook 1, Electrical Controls
Tessa Palfreyman, 1990
Specifiers' Handbook 2, Wheelchair stairlifts and platform lifts
Stephen Thorpe, 1993
Good Loo Design Guide and Wheelchair Template
Stephen Thorpe, 1988 and 1991
CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY RESEARCH AND INFORMATION ASSOCIATION 6 Storey's Gate, London SW1P 3AU, tel 0171 222 8891, fax 0171 222 1708
Comprehensive guidance prepared in anticipation of the dda and particularly relevant in relation to the difficulties and sensitivities of achieving access to historic buildings.
Buildings for all to use, good practice guidance for improving existing public buildings for people with disabilities Sylvester Bone, 1996
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT, TRANSPORT AND THE REGIONS
In the Building Regulations 1991 (1999 Edition ) Approved Document M, see Access and Facilities for Disabled People. In addition to Part M are:
Examples of Ramps, Thresholds and level entrance design for access to housing and also Approved Document B, Fire Safety, which introduced the concept of refuges and assisted evacuation
For detr publications: hmso, hmso Publications Centre, po Box 276 London SW8 5DT, tel orders 0171 873 0011, fax orders 0171 873 8200, tel enquiries 0171 873 0011.
ENGLISH HERITAGE, 23 Savile Row, London W1X 1AB. tel 0171 973 3434
Easy Access to Historic Properties, 1995. Statement of policy, and setting out of guidance in relation to achieving access to historic buildings. Essential reference when adapting and altering 'Listed Buildings'.
Access to the Historic Environment, 1997 by Lisa Foster, former consultant to English Heritage
isbn 1 873394 187
BSI , 2 Park Street, London W1A 2BS
tel 0171 629 9000
BS5810:1979 Code of Practice for Access for the Disabled to Buildings currently under review BS5588 Part 8:1988 Fire Precautions in the Design, Construction and Use of Buildings - Code of Practice for Means of Escape for Disabled People now cross-referenced to Part B of the Building Regulations, introducing the concepts of refuges and assisted evacuation from buildings in public use; an essential tool for the preparation of evacuation plans in an audit.
ROYAL NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR THE BLIND, 224 Great Portland Street, London W1N 6AA, tel 0171 388 1266, fax 0171 388 2034. Comprehensive design guidance for people with visual disabilities. The RNIB and Guide Dogs for the Blind have set up the Joint Mobility Unit and can provide in-house training and audit and consultancy services; the JMU is participating in the Reading University Course (see above )
Building Sight Peter Barker, 1995
ROYAL NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR DEAF PEOPLE 19 - 23 Featherstone Street, London, EC1Y 8SL, tel 0171 296 8000, fax 0171 296 8199 Design and technical guidance, and technical advisory and installation service.
Louder than Words, Alec Miskin, 1995 Induction Loops in Public Places leaflet.
DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION AND EMPLOYMENT, Architects & Buildings Branch, Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BT. tel 0171 925 5971, fax 0171 925 6986
DfEE Publications, PO Box 5050, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 6ZQ, tel 0845 60 222 60, fax 0845 60 333 60 e-mail email@example.com.
What the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995 means for schools and LEAs Circular number 3/97
Available free of charge from DfEE Publications Centre, PO Box 6927, London E3 3NZ, tel 0171 510 0150, fax 0171 510 0196. Designing for Children with Special Educational Needs, Ordinary Schools in Building Bulletin 61; Excellence for all children
Meeting Special Educational Needs, Green Paper : October 1997; and Access for Disabled People to School Buildings in Management and Design Guide Building Bulletin 91. Available from the Stationery Office.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
A Practical Guide for Disabled People - Where to find Information, Services and Equipment (available from the Stationery Office; see under detr, above). Also available in Braille and Audio-cassette from Department of Health PO Box 410 Wetherby LS23 7LN.
Disability Discrimination Act 1995
(see HMSO under DETR, above)
Should be read in conjunction with the series of supporting Codes of Practice, also obtainable from the Stationery Office. Codes are being produced as the provisions of the Act are brought into force; the Code of Practice on Premises is to be prepared during 2000 and will be published following the establishment of the Disability Rights Commission.
COUNCIL FOR THE CARE OF CHURCHES
Widening the Eye of the Needle, Access to Church Buildings for People with Disabilities, John Penton, Church House Publishing, Church House, Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3NZ
Guidance on alterations to churches, including reference to quinquennial inspections and other ecclesiastical procedures, and work to sensitive historic fabric.
The Disability Discrimination Act : Inclusion - a workbook for building owners, facilities managers and architects, John Penton, riba Publications, Construction House, 56 - 64 Leonard Street, London EC2A 4LT
isbn 1 85946 032 1. Comprehensive guidance on the dda and accessibility appraisal and accessibility audit procedures and reports; includes access audit pro-formas (which are available separately in packs) and extensive design guidance.