Ian Streets, of About Access Limited says accessible design should not be an afterthought and warns ignoring it early in a project can prove costly
It’s been a tough time for experts, with their knowledge and experience all too often called into question by politicians with a contrary point to prove. But when it comes to building design, we ignore the experts at our peril, because they tend to deal not in opinions which may be open to debate, but in hard facts backed by legislation and documented guidance.
You wouldn’t embark on a construction project without securing the experience and skills of a good architect/designer, fire engineer, M&E consultant or other relevant professionals, and you shouldn’t exclude the accessibility expert. However, we have just advised on a project where they did overlook accessibility, and where the project team is now carrying out costly remedial work even at the drawing stage.
Increasingly as awareness of the importance of accessible design grows, a client will specify their requirements as part of a design brief. They’ll set out how they want a project and a building to operate. What sort of rooms do they want? Do they want a reception area, and maybe shower facilities for staff? Do they want an ultra-modern look with plenty of glass or other quirky features, or do they want a minimalist feel? But, whatever they want, the question should be asked, what are the accessibility issues which are likely to arise?
The role of the architect
It is the job of the architect to meet all the requirements. Whilst the client might know what they want their building to look like, they are unlikely to be an expert in any part of the design and construction process. They rely on the architect to provide a solution.
The architect will come up with a design and pass the plans to Building Control for their approval, experts working together, combining their considerable skills and experience and bringing in other specialists to fill in the gaps, but only to a point.
Real-life experience of ignoring accessible design
In our real-life example the client, the management of a youth organisation, had specified within their design brief that the new premises would have to be accessible premises. The architect produced the plans, everything was approved by Building Control and it was at this point that we were called in by the client to give our advice on the state of accessibility.
But on doing so, we found simple and obvious errors. We advised the client of the deficiencies and then discussed with the designer how to rectify the problems.
One issue concerned a flight of stairs where the door at the top opened towards the user, forcing them to go back down a couple of steps to make room for the door to open. This isn’t even an accessibility issue, it’s just obviously wrong.
Another was a shower room which was too small – there are minimum measurements which must be adopted for such facilities as shower room and WCs to be classed as accessible. There was also a window sill on the first floor which was too high to enable wheelchair users or people short in stature to see outside.
These were all significant failings, especially given that the client had specified the need for the building to be accessible, which meant they had to go back to the drawing board.
Ignoring accessibility can be costly
Clients who do not have that initial awareness of accessibility issues will be even more reliant on the expertise of their project team. They are unlikely to demand an acceptable level of accessibility in their design brief, they are less likely to identify obstacles to accessibility in plans or in a completed project, and they may not even think of bringing in an accessibility expert to make sure that the building can be accessed by all.
As in the case of our example, the outcome will be added cost, time delays and inconvenience to address the faults just when everyone thought they’d finished the design. The way to avoid that is to plan the project properly, and make sure your team includes an accessibility expert.
About Access Limited
Please note: this is a commercial profile