The new IWFM GPG expands FMs’ thinking about basic accessibility to include more medical conditions and impairments, and other needs such as faith, motherhood and gender, explains Jean Hewit.
Most FMs know quite a bit about improving access in their buildings – they have been at the sharp end for some time, inheriting buildings that are not quite right for some disabled occupants. Part of their responsibilities is to make the “reasonable adjustments” required by the Equality Act 2010, as well understanding the basic building regulation Doc M requirements.
Since the last GPG was published in 2013 there have been several developments in design standards. We have referenced these so that FMs can update their knowledge.
The information about personal emergency evacuation plans has been retained because for many FMs facilitated and assisted evacuation of people remains a primary concern; even new buildings require a pragmatic, informed approach to ensure a robust fire evacuation management system is in place.
What’s in the new GPG
The new GPG challenges our understanding of what constitutes a disability, moving away from the traditional narrow view of wheelchair users and people with readily apparent conditions. For some time we have known that over 50 per cent of disabilities are hidden and, when you add people with mental health conditions, that figure is likely to be much higher.
What should you consider?
Human-centric design and management is the way forward. We must still address the fundamental spatial and reach requirements of wheelchair users and the visual contrast and lighting requirements for people with visual impairments but it also means thinking about many other needs:
- What faith facilities should be provided?
- Is a nursing mothers’ area to be provided?
- Are we using non-perfumed cleaning products to protect people with allergies?
- Why aren’t we adding shelves to all of our self-contained toilets for the benefit of people with stomas (colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy)?
- What is a suitable mix of toilets to cater for all gender identities?
The new GPG is not another technical standard full of dimensions – there are very few measurements in the guide – but rather it provokes thoughts about different needs and signposts helpful data sources for FMs to find the answers for specific situations.
‘Neurodiversity’ is the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within humans. We believe at least 80 per cent of the population is neurotypical (NT) but an important minority has some form of neurodivergence affecting sensory/neurological processing function.
Autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia are common examples whereby a sensory difference can be present, and this can include heightened sensory ability, resulting in acute sensitivity to:
- smell; and
- spatial awareness.
Without due consideration, an environment can cause distress to people with sensory/neurological processing differences.
I have addressed this in the new guidance and I believe it will be gradually introduced into standards over the next few years. The good news is that most of the building elements that adversely affect the many people with neurodivergent conditions are items that are renewed at regular intervals as part of a refresher or refurbishment programme.
Mental health and well-being is also mentioned, as is the link with WELL and other accreditation standards.
As many of us will be enduring enforced isolation and homeworking, it is a good time to reflect on how our offices and homeworking environments can support our mental, physical and emotional needs for the future and whether or not we have achieved a good mix of different types of environment to meet our neurocognitive and activity-based needs.
We all need a quiet space to focus and stimulating areas for social exchange. Finding the right balance is key to our happiness, wellness and motivation while working.
Download the new GPG guide at tinyurl.com/GPG-inclusive
Jean Hewit is a senior consultant in Buro Happold Engineering's inclusive design team and author of IWFM's Good Practice Guide: Managing Accessible and Inclusive Places