When you operate business premises or public buildings including schools, colleges, sports and leisure centres, council offices, accommodation blocks, or any commercial premises that require public access, it’s in everyone’s best interests to make the buildings more accessible. Despite the modern evolution of architecture and technology, some buildings prevent accessibility.
In the UK, there are an estimated 1.2 million people using wheelchairs and 1.5 million people who have a learning disability, according to the NHS.
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The Equality Act 2010 governs accessibility in commercial premises and demands that anyone who works in, or visits, commercial premises must be able to access them easily. Sadly, this isn’t always the case in reality.
What struggles do disabled people face?
Disabled people are more likely to find access to products and services difficult compared with non-disabled people, with 41% saying they struggle to buy groceries, clothing and medicines due to access issues.
When entering banks, building societies, bars, restaurants, sports and leisure facilities, cinemas and hairdressing salons, 51.5% of disabled people have had access problems. Those aged 75 and older have experienced the most problems, with 53.9% of this age-group struggling.
By 2050, it is envisaged that 940 million people worldwide will have a disability, so health experts are calling for building designers and business owners to “make a conscious effort” to improve accessibility problems now.
What disabilities must be considered?
All types of disabilities should be taken into account, including all physical disabilities. Access to buildings for people who use a wheelchair can be particularly challenging.
People with visual and auditory limitations should also be considered, as those with impaired sight or hearing can suffer other issues around commercial buildings, especially when navigating airports and bus stations, for example.
People with learning difficulties may find it hard to understand some means of information and communication. People on the autistic spectrum may struggle in premises where there is lots of clutter and noise in busy areas, for example.
It is crucial that architects and business owners take all types of disability into account and plan accordingly. This is not only important for customers, who need the same access privileges as non-disabled people, but it is also vital for business owners, who are missing out on trade by excluding some sections of the community from entering.
Read on to discover five ways to make buildings more accessible for everyone…
1. Automatic doors
Having automatic doors installed is key to making your premises more accessible to all. They enable access into and around buildings to help owners comply with the law.
Physically disabled people can enter without any physical effort to open the door and provide the appropriate door dimensions for wheelchair access.
Many commercial premises choose automatic sliding doors for the greatest ease of accessibility for customers using wheelchairs. If your premises are subject to high footfall, they are particularly useful to avoid bottlenecks, as they offer more space than some other types of door.
Ramps often go hand in hand with automatic doors. Assess where the automatic door will be installed and whether this means you’ll need to provide a ramp too for wheelchair and disabled access.
Installing ramps and curb cuts is the most obvious way of helping disabled people enter your premises. Without an easy way to enter and exit a building, someone with a disability may be deterred from coming in, so not only are you flouting the law, but you’re also preventing customers and potential employees from benefiting your business.
You may also wish to consider providing lifts if your business is on multiple floors, as escalators are no use to someone in a wheelchair.
3. Easy-to-read signs
Easy-to-read signs with Braille directions are invaluable for people with visual challenges. A common complaint around places like bus stations and airports is a lack of readily available information in a format they can understand.
Create clear signage to improve accessibility. Even if you have curb cuts and ramps to your doors, people may not see them easily, or they might not know how to use them properly. Have the exterior of your premises clearly marked with high-visibility signs to let people know how to safely access the interior.
Install Braille signs to help customers with visual impairments navigate their way around your premises’ interior. Clear signage is also vital for people who have hearing impairments, or for those with learning challenges, who may need extra visual aids to navigate the building.
You can also utilise overhead signs that can be lit up temporarily at appropriate moments, such as if there is a fire drill in progress or an emergency. This can be useful for staff visiting your premises too, as the signs can advise where meetings are taking place.
4. Accessible bathrooms
Having no accessible public toilets is a major reason why disabled people may not enter your premises. Ensure you have the relevant number of disabled toilet facilities for people in wheelchairs, taking into account the size and layout of the building.
In addition, ensure people with vision impairments know where the bathrooms are by having clear signage and Braille signs. Place signs above the sink letting people know where the soap is, and which is the hot and cold water. Most modern commercial premises have easy-to-use taps, rather than traditional ones that you turn, so people of different physical abilities can turn them on and off.
5. Accessible parking
If you have a car park, provide accessible parking spaces for disabled drivers. They should be clearly marked as disabled bays and should be near the entrance to your premises. Mark them as disabled spots with the relevant logo painted on the ground.
You should also have signage nearby advising they are disabled bays and warning of the penalties for non-disabled drivers who park there.
By ensuring your premises are accessible to everyone, you’re not only helping customers and employees, but you’re also helping yourself by earning a good reputation and boosting trade.