What is Accessibility!

Wheelchair figure inside a no entry circle with a no entry sign

Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities. The concept of accessible design and practice of accessible development ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assisted technology (for example, computer screen readers).

Getting around in the physical world is something many of us take for granted.  Curbs, stairs, using the phone, paying for goods, narrow passages – these are barriers most able-bodied people take for granted on a daily basis.  We seldom think about signs, loudspeaker announcements, traffic signals, and other sources that direct us or give us necessary information, yet all of these pose real difficulties for many disabled people.  For those of us who have some physical difficulties – a curb or a few stairs can be large barriers and prevent the person being able to use your service.  Airport/train loudspeaker announcements are often difficult to understand for people with perfect hearing; for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, they may not hear them at all.  Signs, no matter how well-placed they are and how much information they carry, do no good for someone who is visually impaired unless they are in predictable places and can be read by touch (Braille).

As far as the built-up environment is concerned, it is important that it should be barrier-free and adapted to fulfil the needs of all people equally. As a matter of fact, the needs of the disabled coincide with the needs of the majority. As such, planning for the majority implies planning for people with varying abilities and disabilities.

Accessibility is not just about making sure your customers can enter your premises, although that is important, after-all, if customers can’t gain entry, any and all other accessibility features you may have in place is rendered useless.  Other accessibility features that are just as important are things like:  Lowered counters, disabled changing room that is actually free of stock/items and available to use, induction loop for the deaf or hard of hearing, trained staff in disability awareness.  All this goes towards your business being lawful and Equality Act 2010 compliant!

Something a lot of service providers seem to forget or simply not bother with, is website accessibility.  As a service provider, your website must also be Equality Act 2010 compliant. This means you must include accessibility information for disabled customers.  Such information would include if your premises has steps/stairs, if so how many. If you have a disabled toilet.  Lowered counters.  If you’re a cafe/restaurant, large print menu’s and you could go as far as to give table height, this is valuable information for wheelchair users.

Supplying this information would help disabled people plan their day/evenings out, much better.  Who wants to find a venue has no disabled toilet and have to cut their evening short?  The end result would be no returning customer and that customer will probably tell their friends/family of their poor experience which could result in more lost customers!  Also, by supplying accessibility information on your website, you will also be helping event organisers plan their events to include a wider range of customers.  This can only be a good move for your business, don’t you think!!

Who Needs Accessibility?

Simple!!  Everyone!!

For businesses such as shops, your accessibility requirements would include:

Floor space – Wheelchair users and parents with buggies/prams etc., need space to manoeuvre around your premises.  Having clothes rails/stands too close together will prevent your customers from being able to do this.

Disabled changing rooms.  These need to be kept free from stock, clothes rails/stands at all times.

Lowered counters for wheelchair users.

Induction loops for people who use hearing aids.

Disabled toilets are also a must.  To list a few!

Why is Accessibility Important?

  • People with disabilities are also consumers and want to spend their money also.
  • You are missing out on a slice of £249bn spending power of the disabled community in the UK!! I can’t stress this enough,
  • By not being accessible and waiting until a complaint is made to make changes, will cost your company unnecessary expenditure!
  • You are breaking the law if your business is not accessible & inclusive!

You have the ability to give your customers independence and gain respect as a socially responsible company.

Disabled people contribute over £249 billion a year to the UK economy and account for up to 20% of the customer base for an average UK business.  (Who wouldn’t want a slice of that?)  By treating them in the right way, your organisation is far more likely to keep them as a customer and have them tell their friends and family about their experience.

Your organisation is much less likely to encounter complaints from disabled people.  Training of this type could save millions of pounds a year in compensation claims.

What do Companies Need to Think Of?

This is such an in-depth subject that it would take too long to describe everything here but here are a few examples:

  • Ramps
  • Lifts
  • Disabled Changing Room
  • Disabled Toilet
  • Table Heights
  • Large Print
  • Hearing Loop
  • Colour Contrast
  • Payment Machines
  • Floor Space
  • Checkout Area
  • Lowered Counters
  • Staff Training
  • Call Etiquette
  • Body Language
  • Tone of Voice

As you can see, there is a lot to accessibility.  So maybe you can now begin to understand why it is extremely important to get it right from the offset!

Outline of person in wheelchair going up a steep ramp

Something disabled people see all too often are companies advertising they are wheelchair accessible when in fact they are not even close!  One of the biggest failures by these companies are ramps.  Some are so steep, they are more like ski slopes.

So to help those of you that are in the dark about how steep a ramp should be, to be classed as accessible, here is a table taken from the Buildings Regulation, Approved Document M: Access to and the use of buildings, volume 2: Buildings and other dwellings, Note:  10m is the maximum length a ramp should be before including a level resting platform of 1.5m minimum length.

This is what it currently states:

Height of Step                         Length of Ramp

         10cm                                              1.2m
         12cm                                               1.5m
         15cm                                               1.8m
         17cm                                               2.1m
         20cm                                              2.5m
         23cm                                              3.0m
         26cm                                              3.5m
         28cm                                              4.0m
         31cm                                               4.5m
         33cm                                               5.0m
         37cm                                               6.0m
         39cm                                               6.5m
         41cm                                                7.0m
         43cm                                               7.5m
         44cm                                              8.0m
         46cm                                              8.5m
         47cm                                              9.0m
         49cm                                              9.5m
         50cm                                              10.m

What are Reasonable Adjustments?

Equality law recognises that bringing about equality for disabled people may mean changing the way in which services are delivered, providing extra equipment and/or the removal of physical barriers.

This is the ‘duty to make reasonable adjustments’. A duty is something someone must do, in this case because the law says they must.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments aims to make sure that if you are a disabled person, you can use an organisation’s services as close as it is reasonably possible to get to the standard usually offered to non-disabled people.

If an organisation providing goods, facilities or services to the public or a section of the public, or carrying out public functions, or running an association finds there are barriers to disabled people in the way it does things, then it must consider making adjustments (in other words, changes). If those adjustments are reasonable for that organisation to make, then it must make them.

If you are a disabled person and can show that there were barriers an organisation should have identified and reasonable adjustments it could have made, you can bring a claim against it in court. 

If you win your case, the organisation may be told to pay compensation and make the reasonable adjustments.

Read in full here: Source:  https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/using-service-reasonable-adjustments-disabled-people

Disability Access Audits

An audit will help establish how well your company meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 and improve disabled access.  It will also identify necessary adjustments in the service provided to disabled customers to meet the requirements of current provisions of the Equality Act 2010 (formerly the Disability Discrimination Act/DDA), BS8300, and Part M of the Building Regulations.  In turn this will increase your custom and turnover as well as help protect you from claims of disability discrimination. It is necessary to carry out an access audit to establish what action is needed.

Unfortunately, there is still much ignorance around the subject of accessibility and the Equality Act.  People still believe that everywhere must be accessible by law but fail to understand the many grey areas that surround such laws.  While people still believe this, legislation will never ever be changed to protect the most effected by such negligence!