John Hicks & Associates

FIELDWORK INSPECTIONS CONTRACTING

Disability Access Audits

John Hicks and Associates can provide a robust and comprehensive survey of premises including play space, indoor and outdoor, that will enable service providers to anticipate the needs and duties that will follow on the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 when it is fully implemented in 2004. For a specific quote or advice, give us a call on 0121 452 1276.

An introduction to disabled access audits is provided below. You may also wish to consult the following three recent publications:

John Hicks 2000 The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (Access to Public Play Space): A Guide to Audit. Warwick: Warwickshire Rural Community Council. ISBN 0 9535616 2 3

John Hicks 2001 The Disability Discrimination Act 1995: Community Premises and Village Hall Access Audits. Warwick: Warwickshire Rural Community Council. ISBN 0 9535616 3 1

John Hicks 2001 Playgrounds for Children with Special Needs. Birmingham: RoSPA. ISBN 0 9540920 0 7 (with Peter Heseltine)

Background
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) was enacted in 1995 with the purpose of protecting people with disabilities from discrimination, initially in employment and progressively in other aspects of daily life.

The DDA defines disability as a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The Act covers sensory impairments, physical impairments, impairments controlled by medication or prosthesis and, among other things, mental illness. It makes it unlawful for people who provide goods or services to the public to discriminate against disabled people, whether or not the service is provided free or paid for. It does not cover private clubs and associations, but does cover public facilities, including play space, swimming pools and parks.

Part II of the Act, the employment provisions, came into force on 2nd December 1996. Since that date it has been unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably for a reason relating to their disability. From 1st October 1999 service providers have been required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ such as providing extra help for service users or in making changes in the ways that they provide services.

A Code of Practice providing non-statutory guidance on implementation of the DDA was originally issued in 1996. The revised Code (1999) makes clear the fact that the duty to make reasonable adjustments ‘is a cornerstone of the Act and requires service providers to make their services accessible to disabled people. This goes beyond avoiding treating disabled people less favourably for a disability related reason’. Prior to a date in 2004 (yet to be set) service providers must have made ‘reasonable adjustments’ to physical features of their premises to overcome physical barriers to access.

Factors that might be taken into account if service providers were unwilling or unable to make adjustments, and action were to be initiated through the courts:

The effectiveness of the requested changes in overcoming identified disadvantages.
The degree to which requested changes are practical.
The financial and other costs of the changes.
The size of the organisation.
Any disadvantages to other service users if changes were made.
Building regulations.
Health and safety considerations.

The reasons for this new initiative are:

The DDA is progressively being implemented, and some of our parish council members as well as village and other community hall officials are anxious to review current provision and practices so as to conform fully with the new requirements.

When the Disability Rights Commission (DRC) is fully into its stride it might well utilise its powers of investigation and enforcement in ways at present not fully appreciated. Some parish council clerks and user groups have asked for help and advice in identifying access restrictions and how they can positively respond to legitimate individual and community requests to remove them.

There are implications for all service providers, including providers of play equipment and play space. John Hicks Children’s Playgrounds – A Guide to the Management and Design of Children’s Playspace. Warwick: Warwickshire Rural Community Council, August 2000 (ISBN 0 9535616 1 5) provides a general introduction to the planning, management and day to day operation of community playgrounds and forms the basis of the training programme. Much of this material is relevant background reading when considering the case for disabled access to play facilities.

The scale of the problem of disabled access to playgrounds and play areas goes far beyond the stereotype of the wheelchair-bound disabled child being taken for a daily airing. Disabilities come in many forms and include hearing or visual impairment, impaired manual dexterity, physical co-ordination and mobility, as well as emotional and behavioural problems and learning difficulties. In particular there is limited public appreciation of the very real problems of disabled parents and carers responsible for wholly fit, able and vigorous children who wish to share play and recreational experience.

These preparatory notes should be taken as representing merely one person’s informed view on access in general and serve as an introduction to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

Nothing in this publication should be taken to constitute a claim that the views expressed provide a comprehensive view of the legislation or best received practice.

The notes incorporate more than thirty specific suggestions for consideration but none of these should be taken as being either required or positive recommendations for early action.

Any decisions to purchase, modify or to dispose of premises or property, to undertake any consultative procedures, or to incur financial costs or other commitments should be made only on the basis of expert and impartial professional advice'

A great deal more information on disability access audits is available at www.access-audits.co.uk 

Background information and the DDA Timetable
The Disability Discrimination Act defines disability as a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities and states that people who have had a disability are covered by the Act.

The Act makes it unlawful for people who provide goods or services to the public to discriminate against disabled people. It does not matter if the service is provided free or paid for. The Act does not cover private clubs and associations but it does cover public facilities, including swimming pools and parks.

Part II of the Act, the employment provisions, came into force on 2nd December 1996. Since that date it has been unlawful for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably for a reason relating to their disability and for landlords to discriminate against disabled people in relation to letting, managing or selling property. The first case won by someone claiming unfair dismissal because of disability was that of Mr Kapadia, an accountant, against London Borough of Lambeth (Court of Appeal, June 2000). From 1st October 1999 service providers have been required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ such as providing extra help for service users or in making changes in the ways that they provide services.

Readers with access to the Internet might wish to know that the full text of the Act is posted there and that it is accessible via any of the major search engines. There are a number of useful information and advisory sites such as
www.cae.oeg.uk/dda.html

The DDA covers sensory impairments, physical impairments, impairments controlled by medication or prosthesis, hearing loss- even if a hearing aid is used and, among other things, mental illness.

Some things to think about – some things to do
As an informed appreciation of the requirements and the potential benefits of the new legislation become more widely known, many community groups are being brought into active discussion of the issues. In many cases measures are being taken to raise awareness and sensitivity to the problems of disability within the membership and the community as a whole. This is tending to encourage growing participation in the affairs of village and community halls by disadvantaged or disabled people, especially where access is or has been a problem. There are prospects of further benefits, since, following an access audit, any deficiencies identified might form the basis for a grant application to National Lottery or other funding bodies, which would be supported and endorsed by the audit findings.

Are all halls affected by the Act?
Yes. The modest size of most community groups and organisations suggests that they are unlikely to be affected by the employment provisions of the DDA, but the letting of premises is a different matter. This is a service provision, and so liable to scrutiny and ultimately to regulation. Halls and other premises that as well as providing lettings for community use also accommodate conferences, are particularly and increasingly vulnerable, since adequate access is invariably required and clients increasingly demand individual support services.

Getting started
When halls seek to gain recognition as being ‘accessible’ they should establish in clear and unmistakable terms that the whole of the facility enjoys the same status and that there are no ‘No Go’ areas. A possible first step might include measures to ensure that, through suitably clear direction signs, the location of the site can be readily located by visitors, regardless of local knowledge or any limitations imposed by disability. It is worth remembering that relatively few disabled people are dependent on wheel chairs or personal helpers, and that any of the varieties of sensory disability or loss of mobility can be disabling and deny access to ordinary events and places. Vehicle approaches to premises should have an adequate turning and loading or unloading space to cater for visitors being transported to and from the site.

Access to the site
As a starting point in reviewing access, considerable benefit can be derived from measures to improve hall entrances and their immediate surroundings. For example, sloping sites can create ‘runaway’ problems for wheel chair users, whilst loose gravel, crazy paving, cobbles or hoggin surfaces, standing water and mud, all of which are merely a nuisance for most of us, add unnecessarily to their existing mobility problems. Street furniture and particularly gullies, drains and similar installations must not offer unexpected, recesses or upstands and should not create traps for wheelchair tyres or sticks. Additionally, all access paths and other routes should be wide enough to take a chair, a pram or tricycle. A minimum width in excess of one metre is recommended, and this should not incorporate tight turns or other demanding or unexpected direction shifts.

Plants or bushes, especially thorny bushes overhanging footpaths should be cut back to allow a full metre width, accompanied by two metres clear headroom throughout their length since they can cause discomfort or injury to people who, perhaps with their helpers, cannot readily avoid them because of an inability to negotiate kerbs, raised beds or other adjacent surface features. This type of environmental neglect similarly puts people who rely upon assistance from dogs at needless risk.

If steps on the main access route to the location are necessary then their limiting characteristics should be removed or at least mitigated by ramps, (preferred gradient 1-15, max. 1-12 and with a minimum width of 1000mm) painted nose edges, warning surface changes supplemented perhaps by tactile surfaces, (parallel lined, ‘corduroy’ surfaces only at the top and foot of steps) colour contrasts and anti-slip surfacing. A surface with small raised domes is recommended where a kerb is level with a road surface and this can be used to indicate safe crossing points or to indicate direction. Where cyclists are allowed to share pedestrian space then the installation of a raised contrasting strip between the two sides of the track offer blind people guidance on ‘rights of way’.

Patterning, which might, superficially at least, appear as steps or surface variations, should be avoided in all surface treatment, especially the installation of slip-resistant surfacing strip material.

Access to buildings
Space limitations both inside and outside buildings often make the installation of ramps difficult and it must be borne in mind that planning approval might be needed if ramps are to be installed onto listed buildings or else in conservation areas. Disabled people, and many older people with sight problems or reduced mobility but who are not chair users sometimes find ramps inconvenient, tiring or difficult to use. For this reason the choice of ramps instead of steps is not necessarily justified and both, in close proximity, often provide the best solution.

Lighting both in and around meeting areas should wherever possible be natural, enhanced as necessary, but invariably at the least strong, shadow free and, from all angles, non- dazzling. .

Ramps need at least one sturdy support handrail, preferably two. The rails should have a maximum grasp (external diameter) of between 45 and 50 mm, which, coincidentally, at the lower figure meets both the ‘grip’ and the ‘grasp’ requirements currently attaching to children’s play equipment rails. Rails must not be cold to the touch, (hardwood or else coated metal should be used) and should provide a continuous run the whole length of the ramp to platforms or landings.

Adequate handrails, extending to 300mm beyond the top and bottom step and returning positively to an end at the wall, should be set at the right height (1 to 1.2 metres above the ground surface) and be sufficiently robust so as to provide substantial support as well as steadying or guiding aids for users. For the benefit of visually impaired clients handrails must be readily distinguished from background shapes and surfaces through colour differentiation, brightness or visible texture variations.

Much of what can be said about ramps applies equally to steps and to stairs. Straight runs, avoiding doglegs or curved sections, are to be preferred. Supplementary stair lighting, where available, should be located so as to provide low level diffused, shadow free illumination. In addition to tactile flooring surfaces consideration might be given to the installation of higher level tactile information indicating approaches to the top and bottom of stair run. The Royal National Institute for the Blind can assist and advice on this and related issues.

Ideally entrance doors should be self-opening on approach but, failing this, they should certainly have handles rather than doorknobs, be neither heavy nor stiff in operation and should be fitted with automatic slow closing mechanisms. Where a double door entrance lobby is in place as a means of draught prevention or as a security measure, then there must be at least a two metre distance within which a wheelchair and possible a carer can manoeuvre. To safeguard particular categories of visitors to premises, doors on corridors, at entrances and exits as well as those giving entry to assembly or function rooms should either be half glazed or have strategically placed vision panels with suitable reinforcement in the panels. All thresholds must be level.

All visitors should be able to gain access from the same point. Rear doors and goods entrances are not an appropriate alternative provision for those with disabilities!

Health and safety issues
Intercom access systems, lights, bell pushes and door handles that cannot be readily reached from a chair should be replaced or duplicated as appropriate. Fire alarm points should be similarly low mounted and systems should incorporate visual as well as audible warning. Systems that rely on voice directions to authorise or to assist access should be extended or accompanied by visual alternatives.

Internal doors, like entrances, should be wide and have easy opening/slow self-closing mechanisms. Narrow doorways, confined circulation areas and other potentially restrictive access points or circulation areas are to be avoided.

Emergency exits and other rescue aids should be operable by and accessible to disabled people.

Specific and reserved car parking arrangements should be provided and maintained for disabled visitors . They should be near the entrance to premises, well lit, and clearly marked . As a part of the community disability awareness programme that many organisations now adopt, respect for these reserved places given high priority.

A covered and sheltered area for the safe storage of prams, bikes and wheelchairs should be provided at the entrance to premises.

Kerbs or other abrupt changes in levels on required or most readily approached access routes should be avoided or eliminated.

Obstacles such as bollards in the natural and direct route from parking areas to major access points can represent avoidable hazards for some people. They should be clearly marked and wherever possible excluded from access routes.

Inside the hall
Flooring in halls should preferably be hard, non-slip and free of obstructions. Soft or close-carpeted areas and doormat wells are not client-friendly for the disabled, and can be hazardous, disorientating or confusing to some conditions. Similar considerations apply to deep or low slung seating and small glass topped tables. Reception desk surfaces, self-service counters and notice boards should be easily accessible from chair height.

Telephone points and access to directories should be comfortably accessible from chair height and the provision of enhanced services for hearing loss and related conditions should be considered. If the proposed height or location of the telephone is seen as creating problems for other site users, then the provision of a fixed seat might be considered for their use.

John Hicks & Associates.
A wholly owned subsidiary of JOHN HICKS LTD.
Registered in England & Wales. Company Registration No. 4160958
41a Upland Road, Selly Park, Birmingham. B29 7JS. UK.
Tel: 0121 472 1276. Fax: 0121 471 4839. Mobile: 07762 232646
email: johhicks@lineone.net

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John Hicks Associates: fieldwork, inspections, contracting. Playground inspection services, including outdoor playgrounds and indoor play areas. Parish and district council play facilities, and play areas in pubs, pick-your-own fruit farms, caravan and camping sites, village halls, schools, churchyards and commercial crèches.