Being aware of the diverse needs of people with disabilities has not always run parallel with making provisions for them to be able to enjoy equality when entering and moving around buildings.
Undoubtedly, this is largely because building adaptations involve costs that some organisations prefer to sidestep. However, there has also been a degree of misconception involved. Businesses fail to make changes to buildings and working practices as they see this as a low priority, or they are unaware of how the law affects them.
All that is changing. There is a growing awareness that there are now 10 million disabled people in the UK, whose rights cannot be ignored. Also, the responsibilities laid out in the Disability Discrimination Act are being enforced.
Legislation on access to buildings
The Disability Discrimination Act was first introduced in 1995, but various features only came into force in subsequent years. This reflects what a complex and sensitive topic this is, as some of the more obvious and urgent discriminatory practices needed to be addressed more quickly.
This staged process included the way in which organisations and individuals were required to deal with building and site access. Changes focused first on public places and then on less obvious locations which could present obstacles for the disabled.
Even after it came fully into effect, there were still many companies playing “catch up” with the legislation’s mandates.
Changes needed to remain compliant
In terms of access, what sort of rulings arose from the Disability Discrimination Act?
It covered such things as heavy doors which opened outwards, making it impossible for people in wheelchairs to enter a building. Having stairs with no lift as an alternative, or steps with no ramp, were also more obvious problems. The more detailed aspects included, for example, a requirement to understand the Light Reflective Value (LRV) of colour schemes. LRV is a way to distinguish steps, doorways, walkways and other physical features for the visually impaired.
The legislation also covers such things as poor lighting and inadequate signage, which could disadvantage or disorientate someone with a disability.
Business obligations to people with disabilities
In some cases, staying within the law can simply require adjusting the way in which you conduct your business, to ensure that disabled customers and staff have equal opportunities.
Other legal obligations require changes to the fabric of your building to remove obstacles, or the addition of aids that can make it easier for everyone to visit and work within that environment.
Despite the fact that the legislation has been in place for some time, it’s believed there is still pockets of non-compliance. This is not only risking hefty fines, but also a loss of faith and trust by customers, staff and the public in general.
To offset the reluctance and expense, the government has created tax allowances and tax relief related to aspects of the more substantial physical changes needed.
Next step for you
Apart from the risks mentioned above, compliance shows your organisation to be both ethical and caring. Also, you can recruit from a much wider pool of talent, offering more employment opportunities to people with disabilities.
If you’re unsure whether access to your building offers equality to people of all abilities, there is help available. A partnership with Automatic Access provides affordable solutions and it also ensures that you stay within the law, opening the door to a better relationship with customers, staff and visitors.