Compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and building regulations


ISSN: 0263-2772

Article publication date: 1 May 2000




Pickles, J. (2000), "Compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and building regulations", Facilities, Vol. 18 No. 5/6.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

Compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and building regulations

Edited by Jenny Pickles,New Developments Section Editor

Compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and building regulations

Keywords Building industry, Legislation, Disabled people discrimination

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is being phased in over the coming years. The part of the Act that has the most relevance to the building industry is to be enforced four years from now, in year 2004, when part three requires removal of physical barriers to the building In real terms this will mean that those buildings which are not now accessible to disabled people will have to be adapted to provide access. Building owners, developers, users and architects would do well to bear the requirements of the Act in mind from now on when advising clients on access for disabled people, and designing new build and building refurbishment projects and facilities.

In July the NHS Executive issued a Circular to Chief Executives of health authorities, NHS Trusts and Primary Health Care Groups outlining action to comply with Section 21 of the Act across the NHS. Therefore hospitals and health service premises in the twenty-first century will have to gear themselves up to these new requirements.

The Act requires a quality in the delivery of services to be phased in from October 1999. Practices, policies and procedures will required to be changed including the provision of suitable auxiliary aids or services which would make it easier for disabled people to obtain health care. From 2004 steps must be taken to remove or avoid physical barriers, which make it difficult for them to access the service.

The Government requires Health Service providers to devise a strategy to implement such measures.

This will include an audit of all existing arrangements and programmes of rationalization incorporating remedial work programmes for which costs and changes should be managed to cover the period up to 2004.

Existing building legislation on access such as Part M of the Building Regulations, where previously complied with, will probably safe-guard service providers from prosecution. However, there are older buildings, which were not originally controlled in this way, or new buildings, which contain elements, or components, which would not have been controlled but would still constitute a barrier to a person with a disability.

Complications will arise from the historic nature of many health service buildings where remedial measures will require inventive solutions and careful negotiation with conservation interests such as English Heritage, who will have concerns for aesthetic and contextual issues.

The Disability Discrimination Act is vested in the individual. Significantly, this means that a person who is unable to use a service because of the barriers created by the building in that it does not cater for their individual requirements will be able to ask for that building to be altered. If it is considered reasonable to do so, then the hospital will have to make alterations to the building. Agreement will normally be sought without involvement of the courts. However, if no agreement can be achieved then the disabled person can go to the County Court to seek action.

For instance issues might include that patients will expect to have independent access on wards including the use of an accessible toilet, generally designed for assisted use. Colours will need to take account of the need for definition for visually impaired patients, PA systems will need to be backed by visual display systems and hearing impaired patients will ask for radio transmission equipment to be made available for consultations.

Whilst reasonableness will be based on financial situation, the cost of the works and what the service provider has done so far to meet the needs of people with disability, Health Service providers are unlikely to be able to plead poverty in this regard. Things which will be taken into account will include whether the provider has already got a strategy in place for making adaptations to the building and facility to enable access for the disabled.

NHS hospital trusts should be planning their strategy to provide accessible facilities and services now. This would include auditing the building, services, and policy, practice and procedure. It would be advisable to record changes made and how budgets are to be programmed for improvement works. Opportunity should be taken to ensure that any works carried out as routine maintenance, extensions, or renovations are made to meet the requirements of the Act in so far as they can be. Lastly, a procedure for mediation and expert advice should be outlined to ensure that any complaints are dealt with in a manner so as to avoid prosecution.

The NHS Executive estimates that the cost of carrying out physical alterations and the provision of auxiliary aids and equipment is £271,125,000 allowing for the fact that rationalisation will take place, and allowing for the fact that:

  • Disability issues are automatically included as an integral part of all initiatives and planned programmes of work.

  • Existing policies and procedures are included to ensure the inclusion of disabled peoples needs.

  • Appropriate staff training mechanisms are developed and put into place.

Inclusive design

To comply with this process hospital and estate managers would be well advised to consult with a practice such as Buro Happold who have a tried and tested expertise in holistic management and inclusive design. We also are experienced in negotiating and designing into buildings all of the requirements needed to achieve compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act. Working with a consultant during the early stages of developing a project will save the client both time and money within the design process.

An inclusive design consultant involved in the early stages of the design will pick out potential problems well before the normal regulation stage identifies issues which will then have to be revisited, usually through an inevitable time consuming and thus costly return to the drawing board.

The prevailing philosophy of inclusive design suggests that every part of the building be fully considered in relation to the many different requirements of disabled people. To achieve this successfully, as with any other requirement of the performance of the building, the implication will be that each part of the design process needs to be carefully considered in terms of full access for all. The Executive also stress that it is important to strategically consult with user groups of people with disabilities, in which Buro Happold's consultants have had considerable success on a range of major projects.

Above all, good planning and initial design will reduce the cost of the changes needed to provide accessible buildings for everyone.

Su Peace, access consultant with Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, was a member of the Legislation Working Party of the Access Committee for England.

Stewart McGough, access consultant with Buro Happold Consulting Engineers, was chair of the Legislation Working Party of the Access Committee for England.

For further infromation please contact: Helen Elias, Press and Public Relations Manager, Buro Happold, Camden Mill, Bath BA2 3DQ. Tel: +44 (0) 1225 320 627; Mobile: +44 (0) 0403 129 599; Fax +44 (0) 1225 320 601;

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