It’s apparent that there’s a lot of misunderstanding and uncertainty surrounding disability requirements in buildings and businesses across the UK, specifically in regards to where particular facilities and features should be provided.
According to GOV.uk, there are over 11 million people living with a long term illness, impairment or disability – that is almost 17% of the total population. The most commonly-reported conditions are those effecting mobility and movement. Even with these continuously rising statistics, many locations fail to provide appropriate solutions, creating an unfortunate barrier in society.
Reasonable adjustments should be introduced into any building space that may see disabled individuals visiting, whether it be a workplace, public building, private business or retail premises. There are a number of reasons why so many fail to offer sufficient support, including lack of knowledge, restrictions in building structure, money limitations and inadequate space capacity – all of which can be resolved using clever planning, suitable products and construction solutions.
In order for wheelchair users to navigate comfortably around a premises, doorways and entrances should be at least 32 inches wide. This may not currently be the case for a lot of older buildings as older properties were built with little to no consideration for wheelchair users. Widening the size of doorways can be done easily and within a few hours, although this does depend on the location of the door, for example – external doors are more complex with bricks or siding involved. In new builds, plans should incorporate larger doorways and corridors, not only for essential accessibility reasons but to create a more spacious, brighter atmosphere.
Creating a safe and convenient passage to and from the building should be a main priority – this is to ensure entering and exiting the premises is as easy as possible for all visitors. Even one raised step can be a hindrance to those using or controlling wheelchairs, mobility scooters, crutches, walking frames and pushchairs. Where changes in levels cannot be avoided, ramps can be used to provide access for those unable to use the stairs. This is particularly important for business premises, as according to the Business Disability Forum, a staggering 83% of disabled people said they would not purchase from an inaccessible company, meaning you could be losing out on a lot of potential business.
The recommended gradient for fixed wheelchair ramps is 1:20, although depending on the length of the ramp, it is allowed up to a maximum gradient of 1:12. It must have a non-slip surface, be at least 1.5m in width and cannot exceed a flight of 10m without having landing platforms for it to qualify under UK building regulations.
Having a multi-story building can create problems for disabled visitors if there isn’t currently a lift system installed. Disabled access lifts are essential for individuals who have mobility issues and are unable to move safely between floors for this reason. Businesses and organizations that reside in older/listed buildings usually rule out the idea of lifts with the belief they can cause damage to the structure of the property or because they take up too much room. This is not the case; there are a number of solutions available besides traditional lifts – platform lifts take up little floor space and can be modified to suit any interior style – whilst also preventing the need to remove walls or damage ceilings. They don’t require machine rooms or lifting beams – they’re also reliable, quiet and economical to run.
It’s extremely important to provide suitable accessible bathroom facilities to whoever may need them, which isn’t just restricted to wheelchair users. Changes to the new building regulations have been extensive and now cover access for a range of people, including ambulant disabled people, people with visual/hearing impairments, those with learning difficulties and individuals with babies or small children. Whether you adapt your existing toilets to accommodate accessible needs or introduce a new, separate cubicle will depend on the area you have to work with – but not providing these facilities can lead to heavy fines and even more serious consequences.
The overall cubical length needs to be at least 2.2m by a minimum of 1.5m wide, with a metre wide outward opening entrance to comfortably fit a wheelchair for the door to close behind. Grab rails should be introduced – they need to be a contrasting colour to the walls so that they are easy to distinguish for visually impaired users.
Using a slip-resistant floor material is recommended for the safety of all visitors, especially in building entrance areas where water can be transferred from outdoors making surfaces slippery. For wheelchairs and walking aids, it’s important that they are resting on secure flooring that is unlikely to slip, move or cause harm. Anti-slip vinyl flooring is an ideal application that is hard wearing, waterproof, easy to clean and has excellent resistance.
Automatic doors provide easy, straightforward access to buildings without the need of any kind of physical effort, which are paramount for those in wheelchairs and unable to pull a heavy door. There are a number of choices when it comes to automatic doors, from sliding sensor doors to revolving doors or even pressure operated swinging doors. The size of the door will depend on the building which may limit the choices you have, although there are solutions for all requirements.
Author: Beth Meakin
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