Access Mobility. This section looks at means of improving access to your services for people with impaired mobility.
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Finding your business
You know the way to your business – but is it easy for customers to find? If you are not in a high street position, is the way to your building obscured by overhanging branches that you could cut back, or is the path too narrow to pass down in a wheelchair? If so, you need to find a way of widening it, or providing an alternative route that is more accessible.
How about car parking? If you have a dedicated area for parking cars, have you made sure that you have allocated enough space for wheelchairs users to park and get out of their vehicle (a standard parking bay width is not enough). Do you ensure that spaces nearest to your building are marked for disabled drivers – and kept clear of other cars? If you don’t normally provide parking for customers, do you have staff parking spaces that could be made available to a disabled visitor with advance notice?
Regular maintenance and some attention to detail can really help with access mobility – for example broken or uneven paving is a hazard for anyone with reduced mobility, as is potholed gravel. Surfaces that are coated with ice, fallen leaves or moss can be very dangerous, and yet take very little time to sweep clear. Freestanding items like litter bins and advertising boards can block the path completely if they are poorly positioned.
Entrance / Exit
Steps constitute one of the biggest barriers to easy access, and it can be very expensive to alter this aspect in a permanent way. If it is not practicable to remove the height difference by raising or lowering the floor level, you may be able to install either a wheelchair lift or a permanent ramp next to the steps (don’t replace the steps with a ramp, or you will cause problems for many people!).
Platform lifts such as the one shown here are often a better solution where the space is too limited to achieve the difference in height with a reasonable gradient (1 in 12 is recommended by Building Regulations). The appearance is neat, and stainless steel or a hot dip galvanised finish ensure a long life for the lift.
If a ramp is your choice, you can get sturdy relocatable plastic or steel ones which are quick to install, and can also be dismantled for use elsewhere when they are no longer required. Make sure that you select a ramp with a non-slip surface, and either a safety kerb or rails, to make wheelchair users feel confident about using it.
If space is too limited for a permanent ramp, then a temporary one could be the solution, as it can be stored out of the way when not in use. Choose one that is sufficiently lightweight to be transported as required: you can get portable ramps in fibreglass or aluminium for lightness.
Whether permanent or temporary, the ramp should have a slope that is gentle enough for a wheelchair to manage: 1 in 12 is recommended for a permanent ramp (eg: a 3″ height would require a 36″ ramp), while 1 in 6 is adequate for occasional use (eg: a 36″ ramp for a 6″ step)
Immovable doors and gates provide yet more barriers for many people. For doors, the options are either an automatic one, which opens as the person approaches, or if this is not possible, then a call system which can be operated from a wheelchair, to summon assistance.
For independent access to outdoor facilities, from playgrounds to woodland walks, a kissing gate is much more user-friendly than the alternatives, such as stiles or a standard gate, and effectively prevents access by motorcycles. Available in various sizes, and with refinements such as RADAR key locking, so that use can be limited to wheelchair users. The kissing gate shown here has a hingeless post design, allowing the gates to open fully in both directions, while the self-closing mechanism eliminates the need for weights and springs which can be dangerous.
Moving around inside
It can be quite instructive to attempt to move around your premises in a wheelchair, to get a feel for how user-friendly the space is.
Things to pay attention to include the width of passageways. It may not be possible always to make them wider, but you can ensure that they are kept free of obstacles such as packing boxes or pieces of equipment that make them more difficult to negotiate.
Small changes in height can make a big difference to someone in a wheelchair. A threshold ramp will bridge differences in level conveniently.
If your premises are on more than one floor, there are various possible solutions. If you have the space and the resources, a vertical lift with a platform for the wheelchair is an excellent solution. If a permanent installation is not possible, a portable wheelchair lift is now available, which requires no electrical power and is suitable when occasional wheelchair access is required. The lift is wheeled into position, manually elevated when the chair or scooter is on the platform, and wheeled away for storage afterwards.
Another possibility is a powered stairclimber, which can be used to assist a wheelchair user to ascend or descend flights of stairs. The S-Max Sella, shown here, can be used on virtually any staircase, inside or out. Designed to manage even narrow or spiral stairs, this powered stairclimber has a comfortable integral seat, which can be quickly removed in order to carry any wheelchair user who is unable to transfer from their own chair.
The climbing speed can be adjusted anywhere between five and 20 steps per minute, and the S-Max Sella folds and disassembles easily so that it can be transported or stored when not in use.
Shelves, counters, etc
Depending on circumstances, there are various solutions to making counters, desks and work surfaces accessible to seated users. Freestanding desks and tables could be replaced with height adjustable models: there is a good range available, with either manual or powered adjustment. If you have built-in counters, then a drop-down counter could be useful, and more cost-effective than replacing custom-built units. The countertop pulls down when required, to provide a firm surface at the appropriate height, then pushes up against the wall for unobtrusive storage.
The dimensions and equipment required for disabled toilet facilities are explained in part of the Building Regs known as Doc M. The first requirement is for sufficient space for a wheelchair user to enter the room and transfer themselves from chair to toilet. Drop-down grab rails next to the toilet, and fixed rails in other locations, such as next to the washbasin, are also needed for support. Hand washing facilities should, of course, be accessible from a seated position.
An emergency alarm system should also be installed, so that anyone in difficulties can summon help. It should be possible to use the alarm when seated on the toilet and also from the floor.
You will find more information about toilets for disabled users, including the totally accessible Changing Places standard, in our assisted toileting section.