Maintaining full accessibility for all building users demands constant vigilance, so that any improvements introduced for disabled people do not decline progressively through a lack of attention to accessibility when buildings are redecorated or refitted, says BIFM's Good Practice Guide to Inclusive Access.
6 June 2017 | FM World Team
BIFM's Good Practice Guide to Inclusive Access, Disability and the Equality Act includes advice on legislative drivers, training, building evacuation and access plans. Click here to find out more.
1. Arrival points
Management control systems will ensure that drivers do not abuse designated parking spaces for disabled people - a policing system should be introduced to prevent abuse or obstruction. Retractable barriers to individual spaces can be controlled by the driver requiring the space if known in advance.
Dropping-off points should be checked regularly to make sure that no hazards exist and the local authority noticed if any deterioration occurs. Directional signage for the drop-off point should be located in positions that are unlikely to be obstructed or hidden by temporary obstacles to line of sight, such as other vehicles.
By having an appropriate registration process for meetings, it is possible to plan ahead for specific needs. Where possible, members of staff should be prompted for information on number of visitors expected, parking needs, access requirements, special dietary needs, and so on. This information can be logged in room-booking request sheets and can alert reception to a special requirement for physical access or a need for a hearing enhancement system, for example.
Delivery drivers should be aware that they must never park in designated disabled bays to unload. Corridors, means of escape and general access routes must be kept clear of debris and obstacles - the temporary storage of materials or deliveries in these areas can quickly make a building inaccessible and pose a hazard.
Make sure that ramps are not made more dangerous by loose debris, surface water, leaves, snow, and so on. Check that manoeuvring space remains unobstructed in the vicinity of ramps, steps, corridors or doorways.
Regular maintenance of air conditioning systems may reduce background noise, which will be beneficial, particularly to people with hearing loss. Consider the needs of all users - some medical conditions affect a person's sensitivity to changes in temperature and air quality.
Ensure that blinds remain in good repair - blinds are critical to some people with vision impairments who may find glare highly uncomfortable.
Door closers should be adjusted to an acceptable door pressure for all users (the opening force for internal doors should ideally be less than 20 Newtons and never more than 30 Newtons).
Floors should be washed at times when the building has its lowest occupancy levels with suitable temporary signs and cones used to mark the hazard while drying takes place.
Where hard floors are in place, care must be taken to communicate to cleaning and caretaking staff that these should not be polished or buffed, as such processes introduce glare problems that will particularly affect people with sensory impairments and may make the floor slippery for everyone.
Regular cleaning of light fittings and windows maximises available light levels. Dirty or dusty light fittings may reduce light levels, particularly affecting people with low vision and many others (the average 60-year-old needs two to five times as much light as a 20-year-old for the same task). Poor lighting also makes lip-reading difficult.
5. Toilet and welfare facilities
The accessible WC (AWC) should never be used for miscellaneous storage. It should also be free from perfumed products (including perfumed soap) to allow comfortable use by people with allergies, chemical sensitivities or respiratory conditions.
Introduce a policy for cleaning staff to unravel the ends of new toilet rolls before placing on holders in all WC compartments - this is particularly helpful for people with reduced dexterity or loss of ability on one side of the body (ideally loose-leaf tissue dispensers will be available).
Ensure waste and sanitary bins are not placed in the wheelchair transfer space adjacent to the WC pan.
The corner layout AWC designed for independent use can be a left or right-hand transfer facility. If more than one AWC exists in a building, the transfer hand should alternate so that there is good provision of both types. Ensure sanitary vending machines do not obstruct manoeuvring space. Ensure the orange/red alarm cord is not tied up and has the correct pull bangles at two heights, the lowest being very close to the floor.
Hearing enhancement systems are required at key communication points such as reception counters, meeting and conference rooms. Induction loop, infrared or radio systems may be appropriate. Make sure you can check hearing induction loops and other enhancement systems by purchasing a loop-testing device.
The need to communicate the presence of aids is also important - are visitors aware that an induction loop system is available for those with hearing difficulties? The hearing loop symbol should be displayed.
Temporary signage, posters and information sheets should be monitored carefully to ensure that they do not compromise an otherwise clear way-finding system. Temporary or ad hoc displays can be confusing for someone who is partially sighted trying to negotiate the building.
Design your website so that people with sight/hearing impairments can access the information. Website Accessibility Initiative guidelines are published by the Worldwide Web Consortium.
Your website should also describe access routes if different from those for non-disabled people, accessible car parking facilities, special arrangements for wheelchair users. This is particularly important if the public accesses buildings.
Where assistive aids such as wheelchairs, frames and hoists are required to be stored, a designated storage cupboard that is kitted out appropriately and well managed will ensure that accessibility in circulation areas remains uncluttered and that these aids can be efficiently provided.
Cycling storage should include provision for wheelchair cyclists, if possible with recharging facilities for mobility scooters, electric wheelchairs and cycles.
Providing for disabled and hard-of-hearing building occupants should be high on an FM's fire safety agenda, says Fireco product manager Tom Welland.
Organisations must ensure that the premises they are responsible for comply with the Equality Act 2010.
Where staff or regular visitors have disabilities the HR department or building manager must create a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan. This applies to both permanent disabilities and temporary injuries such as sprained ankles and mobility problems associated with pregnancy.
Products may need to be installed to ensure those with impaired hearing are made aware of a fire alarm. This could be a product that vibrates and/or uses light to alert to a fire alarm, or products akin to Fireco's deaf message system (DMS) system, which alerts hearing-impaired people with a text message.
Any evacuation procedure policy needs to consider every person's disabilities. Keeping means of escape routes clear is a vital part of fire safety - even more vital when considering the space required for a wheelchair.
Fire doors are commonly abused. They are frequently wedged open to aid the free-flow of movement within a building and to facilitate cleaning. Products available include wireless free-swing door closers that allow a fire door to be held open but also 'listen out' for a fire alarm and safely closing the door in such a scenario.
Staff should also be trained to help disabled users should an incident develop. FMs should also ensure that the fire-risk assessment is a live document, rather than an annual 'tick-box' exercise.
Play the game
In September 2015, England's Premier League clubs agreed to improve disabled access provisions after a report found that just three out of 20 had provided the minimum number of wheelchair spaces set out in the Accessible Stadia Guide (ASG).
Clubs committed to meet provisions set out in the ASG - an advisory document that provides guidance on meeting the obligations of the Equalities Act (2010) - by August 2017. These improvements included ensuring that services are made more readily available to disabled supporters, such as retail offerings, the inclusion of induction loops and lowered counters at retail spots, and disabled toilets. Clubs were also directed to employ a disability access officer as an "appropriately senior official", with responsibilities including the provision of "safe, inclusive, accessible facilities and services for disabled supporters".
But an interim Premier League report published in January suggested that a number of clubs are likely to miss the August deadline; the differing ages and nature of stadia mean that clubs face "significant built environment challenges".
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) called the situation "disappointing", and threatened legal action if clubs do not comply. A government report published by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in January said it was clear that clubs, "notably many of those with very considerable income and resources, have not given priority to sports fans with disabilities in recent years, despite the increase in income many of those clubs have received".