There is still a lack of awareness as to which types of organisation fall within the scope of the DDA - so when it comes to lift services what action is necessary to comply ?
by Simon Mitchell
03 November 2006
The growing need to take account of the particular access needs of people with disabilities has been on the agenda for many years. More recently, however, it has gained significant momentum in the wake of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) 1995, now fully in effect.
Yet there is still a lack of awareness as to which types of organisation fall within the scope of the legislation and equally, what is needed to ensure legal compliance. At the same time, for facilities managers and other premises operators, the DDA has thrown into sharper relief the broader social responsibility to provide easy and equal access to a product or service, including both access into and within the building.
Access for all
Just as the local museum must provide suitable access for blind people, so the sports centre next door must make welcome the 'keep fit' wheelchair user.
So what obligations does the DDA place on owners and users and how can compliance be assured? One of the first misunderstandings is to consider disability purely in terms of wheelchair access. The DDA defines a disabled person much more broadly, as someone with "a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".
Not just mobility
There is an estimated 10 million disabled adults in the UK. In 1999, the DWP Research Report Disability in Great Britain found that more than a quarter of disabilities were not locomotion-related: indeed, wheelchair users account for less than 20 per cent of all disabled people.
The DDA therefore applies equally to blind and partially-sighted people, those with hearing difficulties, with long-term illnesses and people with learning disabilities, all of whom face different problems regarding physical access to and within buildings.
When advising clients on what is required to meet the lift-specific provisions of the DDA, one specialist has adopted a conformity checklist (see box below). The list is by no means exhaustive but provides an indication as to the kinds of issues which need to be addressed when considering the needs of users.
Underpinning the act's provisions is the principle of "reasonable adjustment". The onus is on the owner or user of the building to anticipate, rather than respond to, the needs of disabled users accessing services as an on-going duty, rather than a one-off.
There are however two caveats. Firstly, the period of time over which implementation takes place must be realistic. If a company operates a large number of outlets with lifts a programme to complete the changes within an acceptable timeframe should be in place.
Secondly, if it is not feasible to change existing policies or practices, it will be acceptable to provide an alternative method of making the services available. So, for example, if it is impractical to install a lift in an existing building, it may be regarded as reasonable (although certainly not ideal) to provide all the relevant services on the ground floor only.
In order to meet their responsibilities under the DDA, manufacturers have recognised the need to move beyond product delivery to the provision of broader solutions. For example, one supplier has created a specialist access and mobility group as part of a comprehensive response both to the demands of the DDA and the broader need to ensure equality of access.
Simon Mitchell is marketing director at Pickerings Lifts
The lift checklist for DDA
Signposting - lift location details must be both written and tactile ( to assist visually-impaired staff or visitors)
Stopping accuracy - the lift car must stop within very tight limits of the floor level, to enable practical access
Call buttons - lift buttons must be within specified height limits on both the ground floor and landings. Similarly, the buttons should be tactile, illuminated and emit an audible 'bleep', call panel, call buttons and car walls should all have contrasting colours
Door sensors - to prevent doors closing prematurely, full height infra-red sensors should be fitted
Interior mirrors - where the lift prevents the wheelchair from being turned round, a mirror must be fitted on the opposite wall to aid reversing
Interior call buttons - call buttons inside the lift car should be set on a horizontal plane on a compliant handrail. Specifications also cover how far the call buttons and exit door button must protrude from the car wall
Emergency alarm - must include
a visual confirmation of operation
FM QUICK FACTS
Disability Discrimination Act came into force 1 October
The entrance to a building may require a ramp or platform lift to aid wheelchair or other disabled access
Inside the building, if levels change in a way that may restrict access to services a mechanical device may be required to solve the problem