There is a great deal of information – and misinformation – concerning disabled access. Not surprisingly, for a complex subject area, the law has spawned an industry around identifying and rectifying access issues. An access audit is a report of the accessibility of a particular organisation.
This page has basic information that you might find helpful. The Equality Act 2010 contains the same requirements as the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) which it replaces.
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According to the Equality Act 2010, the definition of a disability is quite broad: “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. Certain conditions are excluded, such as addictions to alcohol, nicotine or other non-prescribed drugs; hayfever – unless it has an aggravating effect on another condition; anti-social behaviour disorders, such as kleptomania, compulsive fire starting, exhibitionism, voyeurism etc.
What does a service provider have to do?
Since October 2004, if you provide a service – whether paid-for or not – you should have made “reasonable adjustments” to any physical features of your premises that constitute a barrier to access. If there are any physical features that make it either impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled customers to use your services, then you must take all reasonable measures to either:
• remove the feature
• alter it so that it no longer has that effect
• provide a reasonable means of avoiding the feature
• provide a reasonable alternative method of making the service available to disabled people
Physical features are: “anything on the premises arising from a building’s design or construction or the approach to, exit from or access to such a building; fixtures, fittings, furnishings, equipment or materials and any other physical element or quality of land in the premises … whether temporary or permanent”.
What are reasonable adjustments?
In considering what is reasonable, various factors are taken into account, including:
• the costs of the adjustments, in money, disruption to business, etc.
• the resources, both financial and otherwise, of the business (what is reasonable for a large, well-financed organisation might not be so for a smaller one).
• how much, if anything, has already been spent on making adjustments.
• how effective the adjustment is likely to be in improving access.
• whether there is financial or other assistance available to assist with implementing the adjustments.
For small businesses in particular, the emphasis is very much on those low-cost, practical steps which can be taken to improve accessibility. Nevertheless where possible, larger scale projects that would have a benefit in this area, should be built into future planning.
The single most important factor to consider is inclusivity. Bear in mind that any adjustments you make to improve access for disabled customers (of whom there are about 10 million in the UK) will also most likely benefit many others – customers with small children in prams or buggies, for example; those with bulky/heavy shopping bags; older people who may not consider themselves disabled, but still appreciate easier access; family and friends accompanying a disabled shopper.
Your aim should be to make adjustments in such a way that all customers are receiving your services in as equal a way as possible, so that disabled customers do not feel that they are being singled out for different treatment. Inevitably, given the limitations that can be imposed by older buildings, there may be situations where this is not possible. If you bear in mind always that any solutions you decide on should respect the dignity of your disabled customers, you shouldn’t go far wrong.
Sometimes, when you are very familiar with your surroundings, you don’t really see them clearly any more. Try to look with a fresh eye, particularly at:
• how easy it is for customers to find your premises
• whether the entrance and exit are accessible
• how easy it is to move around once you are inside
• accessibility of any shelves, counters, etc
• what sort of information you provide for customers
• customer toilets – if relevant to your type of business
Remember that disabled people are not one homogenous group, but lots of individuals with different needs: what works for one person won’t necessarily suit another. If you talk to people who use your business as well as your staff, you are more likely to find out about any areas that are causing problems.
Example: Selfridges & Co, Oxford Street
The well-known retailer has chosen Inclusion.Me for their Equality Act Review. Inclusion has worked with Selfridges & Co at their Oxford Street store in London to improve the accessibility of their flagship store and services.
Over the last few months, they have undertaken a full disability access audit report and Equality Act review aimed at supporting their ongoing drive to improve the accessibility of their services to all members of the public. Inclusion has provided additional guidance through the provision of various bespoke design guide documents to assist with planning cost-effective access improvements as refurbishments are carried out in the future as well as also helping them review their staff training requirements. Selfridges are committed to improving the accessibility of one of Europe’s premier department stores in the heart of the West End.
A disability access audit is the easiest and most comprehensive way of making sure you meet the needs of your disabled clients, customers and employees. The audit will map a journey through your business, as taken by a disabled person – meaning that you are aware of all your responsibilities under the Equality Act and the most cost-effective ways of meeting them.