Built Environment Accessibility
In this section
Accessibility to the built environment affects a large number of people within society. It is accepted throughout the European Union that at any one time 15-20% of the population will have a significant level of disability of a temporary or permanent nature.
Engineers, planners, and designers have used Leonardo de Vinci’s ‘average man’ as a guideline for their work. It has become the basic model on which the majority of designs are based. Yet there is no such thing as the ‘average man’.
Another type of design that has been the main focus of designers and engineers in buildings is the ‘toilet and ramp’ approach and catering for wheelchair users. Features such as colour schemes, lighting, the absence of loop systems and poor acoustics had rarely been considered in the design process. As a result of this focus on designing to meet the needs of people with physical disabilities, the needs of the vast majority of people with other disabilities are being ignored in the design process.
Barriers faced by people with disabilities
Everyone requires equal consideration from those who commission, design, construct or manage buildings and the external environment. For example:
- Someone who is short of breath or has a broken ankle will find stairs difficult or impossible;
- A smooth circular doorknob will be very difficult to use if a person has poor grip;
- Street furniture or bollards that do not contrast with the background are a hazard for people with poor vision;
- Even a single step can deny entry to a person pulling a suitcase on wheels, or a person using a wheelchair.
Universal accessibility is a key concept that states that all environments should be accessible by everyone, regardless of ability (University of Ulster, 2003). Everybody is different and there is no ‘average’ person. As a result universal accessibility will benefit all, because people with disabilities, people of small or tall stature, parents with buggies, delivery persons and so forth will have greater access to the built and external environments.
To ensure accessibility of the built environment is of the highest standard there are a number of essential criteria that need to be met. These are highlighted below with a brief description of some of their influencing factors:
- Management - Access handbook, access and safety, responsibilities and commitment
- Transport – Getting to the building, location, set down areas
- External Environment - car parking, routes, ramps, steps and doors
- Vertical and Horizontal Circulation - steps and stairs, lifts, corridors and internal doors
- Facilities - reception, toilets, seating areas, changing rooms, restaurants and refreshments
- Interior Design - lighting, colour and contrast, fixtures
- Evacuation - emergency equipment, alarms, signage, evacuation equipment, evacuation plans
- Communication Facilities - signage, telephones, tactile features, acoustics
Irish policy and legislation that affects accessibility of the Built environment
Accessibility of the built environment in Ireland for people with disabilities is mainly controlled by Part M of the Building Regulations (2000) entitled “Access for People with Disabilities". The underlying philosophy of Part M is to ensure that as far as is reasonable and practicable, buildings should be usable by people with disabilities. A Technical Guidance Document for Part M is also provided in three sections, which include access and use, sanitary conveniences and audience and spectator facilities.
There are also a number of Acts that provide a legislative framework for organisations to ensure that premises and services comply with minimum accessibility requirements. These include the Equal Status Act 2000, the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations 1993. Also key national plans such as the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness 2000 and Sustaining Progress 2003 have promoted accessibility.
While the legislation covers the minimum, there is a need for engineers who wish to embrace the concept of universal access to look beyond the regulations. The promotion of best practice on accessibility in Ireland is encompassed in Building for Everyone (NDA, 2002) a best practice guideline, which aims to promote universal access to buildings and the external environment. Building for Everyone shows how to design, make and manage buildings and external environments for the inclusion, access and use of everybody. It is about how to ensure that everyone can make full use of buildings and environments they live in, work in and visit. The publication offers a vast range of ideas, which can be easily incorporated into design, management and construction.
Information/resources on built environment accessibility
- Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach
- This series of 10 booklets provides comprehensive best practice guidance on how to design, build and manage buildings and spaces so that they can be readily accessed and used by everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability.
- Bright, K. and Di Giulio, R. (2002) Inclusive Buildings: Designing and Managing an Accessible Environment. Blackwell Science, London
- Inclusive Buildings: Designing and managing an accessible environment is a CD ROM publication gives an extensive insight in how to design and manage the built environment. The CD is arranged under the following headings: user needs, building categories, functional elements, access audits and wayguidance systems.
- Goldsmith, S. (2000) Universal Design Architectural Press, London
- Universal Design suggests that experts in the field of accessibility continue to miss the point. It calls on designers and lawmakers to embrace access “for everyone” rather than looking at people with disabilities in isolation to others. Goldsmith discusses making buildings safe and convenient for all their users, including people with disabilities and provides a comprehensive list of guidelines for making these buildings accessible.
- Centre for Accessible Environments (1999) Access Audits: A guide and checklists for appraising the accessibility of public buildings. Centre for Accessible Environments, United Kingdom.
- Access audits has been published by the CAE as a guide and checklist for appraising the accessibility of public buildings. It provides the background data to ensure the auditor understands what details need to be considered in carrying out an audit and illustrates how to carry out an audit.
- Barker, P., Barraick, J. and Wilson, R. (1995) Building Sight. Royal National Institute for the Blind, London.
- Building sight is published to address the needs of people with visual impairments in the built environment. It is a handbook of building and interior design solutions to include the needs of visually impaired people and highlights their needs in a simple and practical way.
- Sawyer, A., and Bright, K.T (2003) The Access Manual, auditing and managing accessible built environments. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
- The Access Manual covers the design, improvement, maintenance and management of accessible environments. As a building designer or manager, it will show you how to provide and run buildings and services, and employment facilities to enable independent and convenient use by everyone.
Other relevant publications
- Barker, P., and Fraser, J., (2000) Sign Design Guide. JMU Access Partnership and the Sign Design Society, UK.
- Oxley, P. (2003) Inclusive Mobility. Department for Transport, UK. (www.mobility-unit.dft.gov.uk).
- British Standards Institute (2001) Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people - Code of Practice. BSI, UK.
- European Concept for Accessibility (2003) European Concept for Accessibility – technical Assistance Manual. ECA, Luxemburg.
- EC Expert Group on Accessibility (2003) 2010: A Europe Accessible for All, European Commission for Employment and Social Affairs, Brussels.
- Rees, L., and Lewis, C. (2003) Housing Sight. RNIB and JMU Access Partnership, UK
- Building Commission (2002) Welcome design Ideas for Accessible Homes. Building Commission, Victoria, Australia
The list above only indicates some of the texts that are available for accessibility and the built environment. The NDA Library has an extensive range of other publications so why not check out the NDA Library Catalogue. If you require a book on loan please do not hesitate to contact the Library staff at 01-6080400 (ext 291) or email email@example.com.
- National Disability Homepage
- Building Standards in the Department of Environment and Heritage and Local Government
- Publications list from the Department of Environment and Heritage and Local Government. Publications include:Building Control Act 2007, Building Control Regulations, Technical Guidance Documents, A simple guide to understanding the planning system,A Guide To Protected Buildings,Conservation of a Protected Structure, An online guide to the Irish building control system which explains the Building Regulations and other issues such as Fire Safety Certificates.
- The Institute for Design and Disability Homepage who offer professional services on design for all, disability advocacy and consultancy.
- The National Council for the Blind in Ireland provides assistance for people with vision impairments. There is also a section on the site dedicated to accessible signage.
- Access Ability is a Disability Management Consultancy, which assists organisations to recruit and work with employees who have a disability.
- The Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) is an information provider and a forum for collaborative dialogue between providers and users on how the built environment can best be made or modified to achieve inclusion by design.
- The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is one of the largest independent social policy research and development charities in the UK
- The JMU Access Partnership is a not-for-profit pan disability access consultancy (specialising in buildings, transport and the street environment) supported by the Royal National Institute for the Blind.
- The Access Association's aim is to improve access and facilities for disabled people and consequently for all people whom would benefit from an accessible environment.
- Department for Transport, Mobility and Inclusion Unit in the UK.
- Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee (DPTAC). Organisation that advises the UK Government on access issues for disabled people to transport. They also advise on the built environment. See also their content on Inclusive Pojects
- Disability Rights Commission. An independent UK body to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities
- National Register of Access Consultants in the UK
- Radar. A campaigning and advisory disability organisation, based in the UK.
- Research Group for Inclusive Environments. Organisation that undertakes research and provides consultancy and training.
- Sign Design Society promote excellence in signing and wayfinding
- NBS Access website was developed to assist specifiers, project managers and others on how the UK Disability Discrimination Act affects the built environment.
- The European Concept for Accessibility
- EU Expert Group Report entitled "2010:A Europe Accessible for All".
- European Disability Forum: Universal access website on disability issues.
- The Centre for Universal Design US is a national research, information, and technical assistance centre that evaluates, develops, and promotes universal design in housing, public and commercial facilities, and related products.
- The Centre for Universal Design resource page
Page last updated: 06/20/2012