Saturday, 12 December 2015

Some Building Obstacles are just Unneccessary.

Hi Everybody

I was out with a wheelchair user last week attending a meeting together. Everything was fine on the street, although there were several obstacles that he had to navigate around such as tables and chairs outside cafes and A-Frame advertising boards. 

Then we approached to building where the meeting was being held. This was  relatively new building of around  20 to 30 years I would imagine. It had been recently re-furbished (probably this year) and was used as a community type centre. There was a ramp up the side of the building to the main entrance door and there was an upright edge to the ramp so that wheelchairs couldn't veer off and white stick users had a tapping board to guide them. But at the door my friend just could not operate the entry system because he could reach it. It was tucked in the corner. I had press the button and to open the door for him.

Once inside the desk was low so that was good but we had to pass through two locked doors both with digital keypads that he couldn't operate. The doors themselves were extemely heavy and more than the prescribed pressure laid down in Part M of the Building Regulations. In fact to heavy for my friend to open. Then there was the lift. Just big enough for him and another person but the side walls were open and he had to keep pressing on the control for the lift to move. He couldn't do this. As he went in frontways and couldn't turn inside so he had to reverse out. There should have been a mirror against the rear wall, as specified in Part M so he could see behind him as he did reverse so he could see when the door ws open and if there were any obstructions. 

Then we had to go into a meeting room. There were two sets of doors which were very heavy with a short corridor between of approximately a metre so he had to have both doors open simultaneously to pass through, which was impossible for him on his own. There should have been either just one door or a passage sufficiently long to allow the first door to close before opening the next. In reality there was only need for one door. 

I guess this was designed by an architect and am surprised that the refurbishments were passed by the local authority. In this day of accessibility I could not believe the barriers  within this building so here are some guidelines.

The ramp leading up to the main door is good as it gives access to the building as is the upright edge for safety. But there should be a handrail on both sides. There is no need for steps in addition to the ramp because the rise is only about 300mm. 

The door controls and intercom button should be within easy reach. In this case the controls were on the far wall in the corner and not easily accessible. It would have been better to place the controls on the side of the door first reached when moving up the ramp. 

It is understood there is a security issue here and that people in the reception area may have restricted access further into the building. Inside the doors should have been controllable from the Reception  desk or self opening. Digital locks are the worse as visually impaired people cannot distinguish different buttons or the text upon them, whilst those with digital restrictions cannot press the right spot. The doors should have the least resistance to open but to ensure a firm close as these are fire doors. 

Floating lifts where two walls are open to the lift shaft are most unsuitable for some disabled people, Visually impaired people may not realise the walls are moving or that the have to continually hold the lift control between stops. Others may have a difficulty giving a continuous hold, wheelchair users may have a problem reaching the controls if they cannot move their chair. In addition there should be a mirror on the rear wall so wheelchair users can reverse out safely.

The doors to the meeting rooms should be easy to push open or be on automatic openers and be single leaf for easy entry. I didn't check the width of any doors so it's not known if they comply.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Shall I SHOUT then?

Hi Guys
I had some top tips given to me yesterday by a lady suffering from a hearing lose. She can hear high tones but not low ones so many people's voices are just lost. And this is a disability suffered by many older people as the symptoms seem to creep up on you.

Going out for a meal, to a busy event or to the theatre can be a nightmare. You just can't hear the other person so there are 3 alternatives that I see. First tell the other person, secondly not say anything but watch their lips and face and nod or disagree by guessing, and third to just not go out.

And staying at home seems normal for many. They'd rather miss out on socialising than not hear and feel left out or being embarrassed by their companions who start shouting or worse.

 You can tell the other person and hope they use common sense and maybe look at you when they talk so you can see their lips better and so connect hearing a little with seeing. Many people react by shouting close up which doesn't help. It doesn't make hearing clear, just puts up a bigger barrier.
  Most people with a hearing impairment will have some lip-reading experience so its very important that you don't cover your mouth. Just look at the person trying to hear and talk clearly without shouting.

The other major issue is the lack of, or ignorance of hearing systems. These are either infra-red or induction loops which we will describe in another post. It is your responsibility to remove barriers for disabled people and in this case you need to make adjustments that will allow them to hear, and this generally means supplying a devise that will improve hearing so that a system must be installed where necessary. You'll have noticed these devices in shops and offices, and at most reception areas. They are kept switched on and the person with a hearing aid switches it to the "T" position. This enables them to pick up the signal and hear the receptionist or whoever.

Unfortunately many devices are switched off, often under the misconception that the hearing aid wearer should ask for it to be switched on. This is not necessary, they are designed to operate off a permanent power supply. And there are battery operated portable models that can  be taken into meetings if necessary.

In larger rooms, theatres and movie houses etc then either the whole area or designated parts are covered. The problems here are that when a deaf person says they need the hearing system sometimes the staff don't know which seats are covered, or the headset has a flat battery or the whole system is switched off. The lady I spoke with said that recently she was seated in the back row so not only was the hearing system not working for her but she couldn't see the signer or the text that was shown each side of the stage.

Not having a system is  have service users, customers, clients, patrons or whatever you call them in your work, then you must have a system avaulable and staff who can use it. In addition there should be suitable signage and the device should be regularly checked and a record kept.

 We have some English/Welsh bi-lingual tactile signs available

Friday, 30 October 2015

Disability Access Auditing

Hi Everyone

Although we carry out disability audits you can do your own on small offices although if you miss anything you may be liable if there is action taken against you by a disabled person. So beware.

Let me tell you about the types of disability that you have to cater for. You might be
 surprised.A disability is defined under the DDA as a physical or mental impairment, a specific learning difficulty or health condition that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

A substantial adverse effect is more than minor or trivial and more than the normal differences in ability that exist between people.

A long-term effect is one that has lasted at least 12 months or where the total period for which it is likely to last is at least 12 months or where it is likely to last for the rest of the person’s life.

The definition of disability includes physical disabilities, mental health difficulties, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, sensory impairments. severe disfigurements and facial disfigurements, progressive conditions with an effect, however small, on day-to-day activities, which is expected to become substantia, conditions with a number of effects, which have a substantial cumulative effect (such as pain or fatigue), people with a history of disability even if they have recovered (for example a person who has had a mental health condition in the past).

Conditions such as cancer, HIV and multiple sclerosis are covered from the point of diagnosis. When deciding whether a person has a disability, any medication or other treatment that they receive is disregarded. The only exception to this rule is the use of spectacles or contact lenses to correct vision. In this case, a person’s vision is considered with the help of contact lenses or glasses rather than without.

But you need to know the definition of disability does not include: loss of mobility due to a broken limb, which is likely to heal within 12 months, hay fever, which is seasonal, addictions to alcohol, nicotine or other non-prescribed substances, tendencies to steal, light fires, physically or sexually abuse others, exhibitionism or voyeurism, tattoos and body piercing, in the disfigurements category.

Normal day-to-day activities mean activities that are carried out by most people fairly regularly and frequently. They are defined as:mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination, continence, ability to lift, carry or otherwise move everyday objects, speech, hearing or eyesight, memory or the ability to concentrate, learn or understand, perception of the risk of physical danger.

Normal day-to-day activities do not include activities which are normal only for a particular person, such as playing a musical instrument or performing a specialist task at work. And an individual is only protected if it is recognised that their impairment has an effect on their day-to-day activities, regardless of the extent of the discrimination.

If you have any questions then leave a comment

Thursday, 6 August 2015

It's still an Issue

When the Disability Discrimination Act was announced hundreds of Access Consultants suddenly appeared and major Companies felt the fear of not complying. Consultants were pulled in and audits carried out resulting in huge reports with minute detail of barriers and other hurdles that needed adjusting to increase access.

Now most architects have taken the access issue on board when designing new buildings, mainly because they have to show it has been a consideration in new build and have had to provide an access statement.

It is strange, however, that many didn't include any consulting with disabled people to see what they needed or in fact wanted. The very group that the legislation was aimed at to improve their access and indeed quality of social life. Unfortunately the result has been mixed. Many organisations have taken steps to implement some recommendations, a few have implemented everything but many have taken no action at all. In fact I recall calling on a store that was part of a national chain and talking to the manager to see if they had ben audited. His answer was "We aren't going to bother. If we are sued then we will make changes before getting to court" And that seems to have been a common reaction.

So has the whole issue died away and disabled people are putting up with bad access? I think in general that access is "so so" but certainly not good. In buildings with front steps many Companies bought ramps but I've seen many gathering dust in cupboards. Users generally shie away from these barriers and just go elsewhere if they can. Some have told me its too much bother that they will just get on with life.

But is this good enough? Shouldn't we still be looking at existing buildings and seeing what can be done. Much involves little or no cost, maybe a new procedure. And if adjustments cannot be made at a reasonable cost then alternatives can be introduced. Although there is a legal obligation isn't this equally a moral issue? Shouldn't we be looking after everyone in our society.

If you feel an access audit would help you and would increase the footfall in your business call me. I work pragmatically and always consult with disabled users wherever possible. Sometimes access can be improved with a bit of imagination and creativity.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

It is now 9 years since the Disability Discrimination Act Part III came into force in 2004 laying out the rights of disabled people. And now in many cases it seems as if that legislation has been forgotten after the initial panic by businesses and the mass marketing by the suppliers of access equipment and access consultants. Suppliers were quick to bring out new products and heavily market existing ones: and quite rightly hat's what they do, find a market and promote heavily. Many Access Auditors wrote very detailed audits picking up minute detail that they listed as inaccessible and requiring an adjustment: and I feel they were often protecting themselves and not being practical, bringing extremely high costs with them. The Business was almost held to ransom with the Act being construed to suit. So many businesses just ignored he Act altogether. Others had audits carried out but took no action to implement the recommendations. Few were taken to court, most actions were settled out of court. I can recall carrying out an audit at a magistrates' court then being call as a witness by someone who could access the building to follow a particular case that was personal to them. And in most cases the Act died.

Now we have fallen into the pattern of new build being designed to comply with the Act and BSI 8300, which lays down and specifies accessible building features but many existing buildings remain inaccessible, although simple adjustments could be made that would make a huge difference.

Remember disability isn't confines to wheelchair users. In fact wheelchair users make up just a small percentage of disabled people. Remember, a disabled person as someone with "a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This could be related to hearing or vision, learning difficulties, physical impairment that restricts movement or grip for example, shaking or involuntary movement and much more. The Act breaks disability down into 7 categories. And interestingly some disabilities may be brought on by specific circumstances, for example a shock such as a fire alarm sounding might bring on a hear condition or severe asthma.

If you are looking to employ someone who is disabled you might think about having a person audit carried out on their behalf. Or you may look to having a PEEP undertaken. This is a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan and is a requirement as part of your standard Emergency Evacuation Plan that every business must have for getting everybody out of the building if necessary, that's basically the emergency route signs you have around the building.

Good access for all does make sense, we are now in an age where equality reigns. Where disabled people are now looking for full lives and not spending their time at home. And in most cases access improvements are low cost and obvious. Its always best to ask any disable discuss access with disabled people as they are usually pragmatic and just want to get on with life.

I've been undertaking access audits for more than 10 years and have covered the UK. If you have a concern over accessibility in your business or employ disabled people contact me for advice at