About Access Ltd discuss how common sense will help you think outside of box-ticking and help with accessibility for an inclusive world
We’ve got guidance, we can read regulations, but often common sense can cut through all the red tape, remove the temptations of “box-ticking” and clear the way to a more inclusive world.
Without doubt, the various official documents have their place and are fundamental to improving accessibility, but they are still only the foundations. Interpreted rigidly they will usually do a job, probably ensuring all accessibility features are identical regardless of the scenario or environment.
But add a bit of common sense and you can do so much more to make life easier for disabled people.
Take the example of WCs. Most people know that places should offer an accessible option and why that is the case, but not so many think about the “how”.
A good designer will always plan accessible WCs into a development. In addition to the obvious benefits, it will provide them with some protection in the event of their client deciding to cut corners and “value-engineer” accessibility out of the project.
We know of cases where a client has tried to strike out the provision of accessible loos, but we struggle to find examples of the reverse, where a designer has drawn in the facilities and encountered a client who then insists on upgrading to the highest standards of fixtures, fittings and lay-out.
Think once and think again
Our message is, it’s actually OK to go the extra mile, think about what all those documents are telling you and then think again, for yourself, about what you can do to enhance the outcome and make an accessible facility even better.
The planning process is clearly important. Planning officers will make recommendations, the planning committee will make decisions and if they reject your application it could be costly and time-consuming to remedy. You will have to change your design or go through an appeal process.
They will be influenced in their interpretation and their decisions by such documents as BS 8300, which provides guidance to developers, and The Equality Act 2010, the legislation which outlaws discrimination against minority groups including disabled people. There are the Building Regulations, which carry a lot of weight. You have to meet the provisions within them. There is also Approved Document M which will tell you one way of meeting the regulations but which also gives you the freedom to come up with another solution if it will deliver the same outcome.
But solutions to what? Disability itself differs immensely and it is essential to understand that there is more to improving accessibility than building ramps and widening doorways. Do a bit of research, or ideally take professional advice, and find out more about the accessibility requirements of people who have problems with speech, hearing or eyesight, those who struggle with memory or concentration, with physical co-ordination or with lifting and moving objects. Watch non-disabled people carrying out everyday tasks and consider where difficulties might arise for someone who has an impairment.
We’re not advocating abandonment of guidance and regulations, but we do find it interesting that a country which has none has surprisingly emerged as a good example of enlightened attitudes around accessibility.
We are working with a client in Saudi Arabia who isn’t governed by any accessibility standards. That gives them a certain freedom and they are making the most of that, asking for a design based on what they see as the direct needs of their customers. They will be influenced by the impact on the bottom line but that’s not a bad thing if it means they make their premises accessible.
People might be tempted to find a way round the regulations or guidance and cut corners to save time or money or both because they think they can get away with it. But it’s usually better in the long term to apply common sense and follow the example of our Saudi clients – take an honest view of what you are trying to achieve and endeavour to meet it.
Accommodation through accessibility
There are various reasons why someone might boycott a shop or restaurant or pub. Maybe they don’t like the landlord, the shopkeeper or other members of staff. Maybe they don’t like the food or the drink or the atmosphere or the other customers. Those are matters of personal taste – you can’t please everybody.
But with accessibility it’s not a matter of preference. You could have the friendliest staff serving the finest food and drink at the best prices in town but if people can’t get into the place and use the facilities because the premises are not accessible they won’t come. They’ll go to a place that can accommodate them.