For most of us a trip to the dentist or perhaps the cinema is simple enough. We might be a little irritated we had to park some way from our destination, but compared to the issues some people face, we really have it relatively easy.
When we see wheelchair users or someone crossing the road being led by an assistance guide dog, we recognise the individual has a disability. There are however many disabilities that aren't quite so obvious but can be just as debilitating to an individual. Historically there was little appreciation of how the built environment limited the lives of people with a disability, though more recently legislation that affects the built environment and the interaction of people with a disability has entered the statute book. Whereas complying with this legislation and avoiding censure would seem sensible, the positive benefits that having an inclusive environment can bring to a business are far more important, one of which is additional sales.
Unfortunately those responsible for designing buildings can sometimes come up with an idea that might seem more avant-guard than the norm and without any intention, create a barrier to some individuals. A typical illustration might be a particular central London retail store and showroom selling IT hardware and communications devices. The showroom has a staircase made entirely of glass which looks like something out of a James Bond movie. You can imagine Blofeld stroking his cat on the head of the stairs. Unfortunately if the double O agent has a visual impairment or perhaps sufferers from vertigo, they would never manage to get to the top of the stairs to try out her latest their latest gadget. Why? The leading edge of each step isn't contrasted to guide where to actually put your foot and the lack of a solid structure to act as a support would play havoc with their sense of balance.
Below are some illustrations that are food for thought.
A unisex toilet in a public building designed for use by the general public. Unfortunately the toilet is incorrect for a wheelchair user as the wc projection is too little to allow an easy lateral transfer. The sanitary bin would also be in the way. But is that all?
To users, the limitations and shortcomings they experience when using supposedly inclusive facilities have long since taught them to overcome these issues. This image is how someone with cataracts would see the toilet. The grab rails designed to assist transfer are white as are the wall tiles so they have disappeared!
No one sets out to design the interior to be as difficult for a user with a disability, but the lack of awareness of how to create an inclusive interior is a lost opportunity. This is an outpatient unit where space limitations have resulted in the area in front of the reception not having enough space for a wheelchair user to turn and face the receptionist. The desk top is on a level with the top of the visitors head. Not exactly ideal.
Cost is often sited as a factor in poor spacial planning but the above illustration is a point where a little lateral thinking would have made the wheelchair users experience so much better. To replace the existing desk with a more user friendly fitting would have cost thousands of pounds. To lower and enlarge the opening in the end wall and provide a shelf at 760mm would have been a reasonable adjustment and would also provide enough space for the user to turn around. This would be at a greatly reduced cost.
It must be remembered that occasionally a building cannot be made sufficiently inclusive to provide a service. It may be necessary to modify how the service is delivered or sometimes it must be accepted a particular building simply isn't fit for purpose.
Below we give details as to how our access consultancy services are provided.
A thorough understanding of how a service, be a retail environment, dentist or performance space is delivered is essential as this will highlight potential access conflicts.
For existing buildings a comprehensive survey is undertaken complete with ultra high resolution photographs or video with particular emphasis on site levels and circulation space. With new build we essentially undertake the same exercise but virtually. Interrogating three dimensional CAD models allows conflicts to be identified and appropriate solutions chosen.
Rectifying identified barriers to inclusive access is all very well but without knowing what it would cost to resolve the identified issues it simply isn't possible to move forward. The access audit report produced details all access issues identified in categories of importance to rectify. Costs are itemised for each issue together with totals for each category.
Whilst it may seem necessary to carry out all of the work at the same time to discharge their responsibilities and end up with a truly inclusive service, budgetary constraints will often mean such an approach isn't possible. The implementation programme with categories of urgency clearly defined will allow for a phased approach to be adopted. Adopting this way forward demonstrates that the service provider is mindful of the need to resolve identified issues and unlikely to invoke any penalty.