Are The Disabled Being Catered To Correctly?

Since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force in 1995, great strides have been made towards providing full accessibility for the disabled. For most of us, we immediately think of wheelchair ramps and disabled toilets, and while these are the most obvious to us (we all need to go in through the building door or go to the loo) they really cater for a small subset of the disabled community. Only 20% of people classed as disabled find it necessary to use a wheelchair, whereas 25% have no difficulties relating to walking. Nonetheless the law requires that every disabled person, whatever their particular disability may be, must be given easy access opportunities and it is for wheelchair users that this can be exceptionally problematic.

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There are a wide range of access solutions designed with wheelchairs in mind. For instance, where a ramp may prove particularly inconvenient to put in place then an access lift should be installed by a building’s entrance. Inside a building, anywhere where there is a change of level should be checked for accessibility and a lift installed where necessary.

The lifts themselves must also provide for all disabled people and this means a great deal more features than many would suppose. Instructions to find the lifts must be clearly visible and tactile. The lift buttons must be reachable from a wheelchair and they also must be readable and touchable for the blind. The lift buttons must be illuminated for people with poor vision or to take into account dark conditions. The lift’s functions and arrival must also be audible for those that have poor vision. The level that the lift stops at must be closely aligned to the external floor so that wheelchairs can get in and out easily. Any colours used must also provide contrast between buttons, panels, lift interiors and exteriors. All this is before we have even entered the lift.

It should be clear from this that where the DDA requires a building to have full access for the disabled, what the DDA actually calls for goes far beyond ramps and toilets; unless you are fully cognisant of the Act it is exceedingly unlikely that you would appreciate the full ramifications of what is necessary in order to comply with its rules. Hopefully, this article will go some way towards helping people realise just what is meant by making a building accessible to the disabled, as it involves much, much more work and planning than most people would think.

Anthony Coburn is a civil engineer who has designed several government buildings and is a driving force behind BIM. He wrote this piece touching on lifts after a suggestion from www.pickeringslifts.co.uk

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