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How to make commercial buildings more accessible29th August 2014

How to make commercial buildings more accessible Building Regulations have, for some time, contained requirements that are intended to make new buildings accessible to people with limited mobility, or impaired sight or hearing. It is also now nearly ten years since the Disability Discrimination Act came into force, requiring service providers to make 'reasonable adjustments' to their premises to tackle any physical features that prevent disabled people from using their services.

What is reasonable continues to vary in different situations. All buildings are different, located in different environments and housing different organisations within them. Every building will have its own peculiarities and will need to be individually assessed when looking to improve accessibility.

Actions to make a building easier for disabled people to access could be as simple as using contrasting colours to help visually impaired people distinguish walls from doors, lowering a reception desk to make it more accessible to a wheelchair user or providing clearer signage or better lighting.

Those looking to improve access to their building must consider carefully what they are trying to achieve at the outset as unrealistic targets will never be implemented and the whole exercise could become a waste of time.

The starting point should be to implement an initial audit to determine the most effective solutions for a particular property or business. These will include a detailed understanding of the disabilities affecting people who are most likely to use the building, as well as significant and professional building surveying expertise in order to understand what is and is not possible, and the likely costs involved.

As a minimum, building owners will wish to meet current legislation, but there are many more steps that can be taken to improve matters – dependent, of course, upon cost, timing and disruption to the occupier.

There are numerous factors to consider on the road to providing an accessible environment. It is not just about getting wheelchairs into a building or the provision of accessible WCs; consideration for the aged, ambulant disabled, deaf, blind and partially sighted among others needs to be given, and all of these members of the community will have their own specific individual needs and requirements.

With some projects, the main user group for which the building needs to be adapted will be clear. For example, at Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, we recently completed the refurbishment of 10,000 sq ft of offices to accommodate the regional headquarters of RNIB / CIB in Cardiff. Our building and cost consultancy skills were combined with the charity’s own detailed knowledge of disabilities to provide one of the most accessible office refurbishments in the Welsh capital, and indeed the UK as a whole.

Designed to Visibly Better standards, the building includes various measures to make it easier to navigate for blind and visually impaired people. For example, each floor is painted a different colour to make it as easily distinguishable as possible from others, and textured flooring and braille signage promote multi-sensory way finding around the building. Internal doors with contrasting door furniture and edges make it easier to tell when a door is open or closed, and brightly coloured edges also define steps throughout the site.

This project also recognised that the building should be as welcoming as possible to those with other disabilities. The insertion of a passenger lift into the building provides access to split upper floors, thus making all areas wheelchair-accessible. A new glazed entrance lobby and reception area was also created, leading into the CIB’s Resource Centre and public activity room at ground level and on to the RNIB’s offices in the upper floors.

This building is to be showcased by the RNIB and CIB as an example to other organisations of how accessibility can be improved in existing buildings and is open to viewing by appointment.

About the author

John Newton, TFTJohn Newton MRICS is a partner at Tuffin Ferraby Taylor

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