Responsibility in Accessibility

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

There’s been a lot of focus on inclusivity and diversity in terms of the construction workforce, but when it comes to creating inclusive and accessible buildings, it’s down to the industry to make sure this happens.

Developers, designers and owners of buildings have a responsibility to ensure that the built environment is accessible to everyone. This includes:

•           Wheelchair users, people with walking difficulties

•           Pushchairs and children

•           People with sight or hearing impairments

•           Elderly people

•           People with co-ordination or respiratory problems

There is a lot to consider when designing a building; energy efficiency, materials, costs etc are all huge factors but they must also consider whether it will be comfortable for the end users. Despite a strong framework of legislation and standards, we still don’t always get it right. I don’t think the error is on purpose, it’s just a case of not everyone understanding what is required.

Construction clients are not always up to date with current legislation, often asking for the project or scheme to be Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant, when the DDA hasn’t existed for a number of years. These days, buildings and projects need to adhere to the Equality Act 2010. There’s no one size fits all approach to equality, but the Equality Act 2010 is about reasonable provision of access and means different things when applied to different situations. Therefore the finished project needs to meet the needs of the future user to be compliant.

Part M of the Buildings Regulations, Access to and Use of Buildings, sets out legal minimum requirements for works to buildings or new buildings. Whereas previous versions of the Regulations focused on the specific needs of people with disabilities, the current edition promotes an approach to inclusive design that reflects the needs of all people. It’s the absolute minimum that we should be adhering too and while many think it restricts design and imagination, I would have to disagree. As long as you’re meeting at least, the minimum standards, with a little imagination we can still go a long way.

Network Rail has a specific Built Environment Accessibility Panel, to ensure their building works, stations and amenities across the country are as inclusive as possible. The panel of experts, at least half of whom have disabilities, work as volunteers with Network Rail to assess and plan accessible places. The idea is a good one and one that I think our industry would benefit from. Everything requires a little quality control and when the end result is such an important one, I think it would be definitely worth the time and effort.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.