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June 2017 - Are we doing enough for the disabled?

The Equality Act 2010 requires service providers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to their premises to tackle any physical features that impede disabled people from using their services. However, are service providers doing enough to improve the lives of disabled people when it comes to the user friendliness of buildings?

Defining what is reasonable will vary according to the type of building, its use and location. All buildings are unique, being located in different environments and accommodating different organisations. Because of this variability, each building needs to be individually assessed.

Appointing an access consultant

Assessing a building for access and its user friendliness for the disabled takes considerable skill and experience and in the long run it is best done by specialist access consultant. An access consultant will have a detailed understanding of the disabilities affecting people who are most likely to use the building and detailed surveying expertise in order to understand what is possible and not possible and the most likely costs involved in improving a building. Of course, there are numerous steps that can be taken to boost a building’s accessibility, but this will need to be balanced against cost, timing and disruption to occupiers. All this will need to be discussed with the access consultant, who should be able to identify easy wins, reasonable alterations and more major work.

Once a building is assessed, the owners can then set reasonable targets of what can be achieved.

When it comes to improving a building’s functionality for the disabled, there is much to consider. It is not just about the ease of movement for wheelchairs and accessible WCs; a building should cater to the needs of the aged that have some mobility issues, that may be deaf, blind and partially sighted among many in the community who will have specific requirements.

However, there are easy wins in making a building better and could be as simple as using contrasting colours to help visually impaired people distinguish walls from doors and clearer signage and lighting, while lowering a reception desk improves accessible for wheelchair users. More obvious improvements include entrance ramps to replace steps and double automatic doors at entrances and in corridors as well as wider or double doors to rooms.

Sometimes forgotten, investment in improved disability access and a building’s functionality for the disabled can have direct economic benefits for the landlord. Business occupiers understand the importance of corporate social responsibility and a building that works for the disabled will also work for disabled employees and clients. This is also important of not-for-profit occupiers. Ultimately, buildings that are user-friendly for people with disability will be more attractive to a wider variety of occupiers, helping to boost rents and reduce voids.

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