Sustainable Design > Access Solutions
The concept of accessibility has advanced considerably over the past decade and is now recognised as a construction discipline in its own right. Access standards are now applied to both new build and existing buildings and to new dwellings.
In planning access provision it is important to not focus entirely upon provision for people with physical disabilities, as not all disabled people are wheelchair users. Provision should be made for those with sensory disabilities, learning disabilities, mental ill health, and hidden disabilities. It is also important to recognise that many people are affected by multiple disabilities.
Access requirements are dictated by the Building Regulations: Part M in the Republic of Ireland and Part R in Northern Ireland, each of which are supplemented by technical guidance documents:
A full list of technical guidance documents can be found here
The change of title of the Northern Ireland guidance reflects the change in focus of accessibility toward access for all people rather than focusing on disabled people. Both documents aim to ensure that;
Both documents also set out guidance on the minimum level of provision necessary to achieve Building Control approval and apply to;
The guidance applies to new dwellings only and aims to achieve a standard of “visitability” where a disabled person can reasonably expect to gain access into and around the principle level of the dwelling and make use of sanitary accommodation.
There are subtle differences between the relevant building standards in the North and South of Ireland, for example, the Northern regulations require the use of visual contrast measured as Light Reflectance Value (LRV) and details dropped kerbs and tactile warning surfaces externally, which are not included in the Southern regulations.
The Northern regulations have incorporated the technical specifications for ambulant internal stairs and manifestations on glazing into Parts H and V respectively, so they are no longer included in Part R.
Building Regulations are not a static entity and are regularly amended. It is therefore crucial to check the standard required at the time of construction and where possible to design to a higher standard in order to future-proof premises.
Parts R and M are limited to matters of access to, into, within and uses of a building and do not extend to means of escape for disabled people in the event of a fire for which reference should be made to Part E (NI) and Part B (ROI) and to British Standard BS 9999.
In addition to the Building Regulations other legislation may impact upon premises in terms of access in both existing and new buildings, notably Equality Legislation.
In the Republic of Ireland these include the Equal Status Act and the Employment Equality Act.
In Northern Ireland these include section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Order and the Special Education Needs Disability Order.
Equality Legislation is focused on the provision of goods, facilities and services or employment and therefore impacts upon premises, and may require that reasonable adjustments be made to enable or improve access.
This legislation does not incorporate a technical standard for premises and therefore compliance with the minimum standards of accessibility set out in the Building Regulations is often used as a measure of compliance with the Equality Legislation as well.
Whilst compliance with the Building Regulations may afford a certain exemption in respect of Equality Legislation, the Building Regulations are not fully comprehensive of all elements of accessibility and therefore other reasonable adjustments may be required to ensure equal access for all. It is advisable to embrace good practice standards of accessibility, beyond the minimum standards, in order to future-proof premises.
Although not a statutory requirement in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland the creation of an Access Statement is advisable. An Access Statement sets out how premises will embrace accessibility or, where an alternative method to that suggested in the technical booklet has been used, it should set out the rationale for the design approach taken and how it will meet compliance.
British Standard BS8300 – “Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people – Code of Practice”. This comprehensive document has been used in writing the Building Regulations. It offers technical access solutions with additional commentary for a range of building types. Some helpful information related to this Standard can be found here.
The following section will use annotated photographs to illustrate some features of accessibility and will follow a sequential movement through a building similar to the layout of the technical guidance documents. It should be read in conjunction with the relevant technical document.
Not included in the Building Regulations but an important access consideration is how visitors will get to a building whether by public transport, private car or as a pedestrian. Accessible parking with wider and longer bays, which are clearly signposted should be provided close to the entrance of the premises, consideration should also be given to the need for a drop-off point. Refer to the Baywatch Good Practice Guide.
Access standards apply from the boundary of the site and from any parking within the site and should include firm, level footpaths with dropped kerbs to enable crossing. Dropped kerbs should include the appropriate tactile warning surfaces – red blister paving for a controlled crossing and buff blister paving for an uncontrolled crossing.
Red blister paving is used to indicate a controlled crossing
Buff blister paving is used to indicate an uncontrolled crossing
Corduroy paving is used to warn of external steps
External changes in level should be both ramped and stepped to offer choice. A long ramp may be difficult for some people who would prefer to use steps with a supporting handrail. External steps should include a corduroy tactile paving at top and bottom landings to warn visually impaired people.
It should be noted that in new build schemes there would be a presumption of level access that is neither stepped nor ramped.
Signage, colour contrast and tactile way-finding devices may be employed to direct visitors to the entrance or around a site.
The accessible entrance should be that used by everyone and obvious to the first time visitor. Even the most difficult site can be made to be accessible with imagination, if well designed access solutions can add to the aesthetic of an existing building.
A window has been made into a door as the main entrance
The external ground level has been raised to overcome an internal change of level
The symmetrical ramps blend well with the existing elevation
Glazing should be made obvious with manifestation, this may be an opportunity to use a logo or apply decoration.
Manifestation used to give directional information
Sliding automatic doors are preferable but where a swing door is unavoidable the movement detection or push pad should be located so as to prevent potential impact with the visitor. A barrier may be required at this or any other projection into an access route.
Automatic swing door with barrier to prevent impact
Consideration should be given to weather protection especially if visitors have to wait or use an intercom. Where a mat is needed to prevent water ingress this should be flush and fixed to prevent tripping.
Where a lobby is used it is tempting to stagger the open door to prevent draughts however it is preferable that the passage through be a straight run. The same is true of doors along a corridor, where it is not possible to achieve minimum clear opening width to both leafs and a large and small leaf are used – the location of the wider leaf should be consistent along the length of the corridor.
Doors can cause considerable difficulty in access terms and it should be noted that the weight of a door will now be taken into account. It is advisable to use hold open devices along corridors and to consider automatic or assisted opening devices.
Internal doors should achieve a minimum clear opening of 800mm. In existing buildings a cranked hinge may help to achieve this without having to widen openings. Full-length vision panels in doors and glazing to the leading edge will help to prevent possible impacts.
A cranked hinge will throw the door leaf clear of the opening to create a wider aperture
The widths of corridors and doors are inter-related and the direction of approach taken into account as for many wheelchair users it is impossible to negotiate a 90-degree turn into an opening of less than 800mm. Narrow corridors can also be claustrophobic and should be kept to a minimum length. Localised barriers such as radiators also impact upon circulation space and should be recessed where possible.
Circulation routes around a building should be shared as far as possible with lifts and lifting platforms employed to supplement stairs. Where there is only to be one lift in a building it should be located in a position that will not exaggerate travel distances for those who must use it. Enclosed lifting platforms can be fitted in existing buildings without the need for a lift shaft or pit. It may be possible to retrofit an existing lift to evacuation standard.
Stairs should be designed to an ambulant standard, with continuous handrails that extend beyond the pitch to warn a blind person that the stair has begun or ended. A tactile device on the handrail e.g. raised bumps, can also be used to indicate how many steps are left. Tactile warning surfaces may also be used indoors but care should be taken that they do not form a tripping hazard. Stairs should also be retrofitted with contrasting nosings that are flush to the tread to prevent tripping.
Tactile bumps indicate the number of steps remaining; note also the contrasting nosing on tread
Planters used to guard an unprotected soffit
An unprotected soffit is hazardous especially in combination with an open rise stair, the design feature is often eroded by the solutions employed to prevent people from hitting their heads on the underside of a stair. An open rise will not meet the stair profile set out in the Building Regulations; existing open rise stairs may be retrofitted to fill the gap.
Where a stair is to be used for evacuation purposes added consideration should be given to factors such as the width of the stair, the depth of the landing, emergency lighting, signage using and graphic, tactile and audible information, and space for refuge spaces.
Height adjustable table
Light from reception makes lip reading impossible
The Building Regulations set out requirements for the number and placement of wheelchair spaces amongst audience seating for example in a theatre, however consideration should also be given to the knee space allowance for ambulant disabled people, to colour contrast and tactile numbering for visually impaired people.
Other seating should provide choice in terms of height, and seats with and without armrests, height adjustable products are also available.
Where there is a lowered section of counter it should be the main section. Counters such as a reception or bar should have a loop system or other hearing enhancement system in place, care should also be taken in the location of a counter in relation to a window or light source to enable lip-reading, the same is true for a very busy décor behind reception which can be distracting.
In hotels and other over-night accommodation consideration should be given to the accessibility of all the facilities in the room, for example the provision of an adjustable rail in the wardrobe, the approach to a dressing table, access to the balcony or windows. A transfer space of 1800mm to the side of the bed will be easier to use and the location of power points should also be taken into consideration to enable a wheelchair user to power a chair overnight within transfer reach of the bed.
En-suite facilities should also be wheelchair accessible, consideration should also be given to additional ambulant standard facilities. See “Sanitary Accommodation” below.
Inaccurate assumptions are often made about what facilities a disabled person may or may not be interested in and therefore features such as a swimming pool, fitness suite etc are accessible in terms of the floor level only, and features such as the spa, sauna and steam room are not accessible at all. The same access consideration should be applied to these facilities.
Accessible changing spaces may be required in a wide range of buildings, notably retail outlets, and leisure/recreation buildings. The location should afford privacy but also ease of use.
The dimensions set out in the Building Regulations are minimum standards to be read as the finished dimension rather than a block-work dimension. Obstructions such as radiators and hygiene equipment such as sanitary bins and toilet roll holders should also be taken into account in the calculation of space – this applies equally to standard and ambulant cubicles.
Telephones at two levels
Accessible changing space in retail unit
Toilet roll holder as a possible barrier in an ambulant standard WC
Low-level wash hand basin
In NI there is a new requirement that where there is only one wheelchair accessible WC it should include an additional standing height sink and for the dimensions of the room to reflect this. Where there is more than one wheelchair accessible WC they should alternate between right and left handing to enable a choice of transfer. Ambulant and lowered height provision should also be included.
It is generally not acceptable that the wheelchair accessible WC is used as a baby-changing facility, therefore separate accessible baby-change facilities should be provided where possible. If it is necessary to include a baby-change table in the wheelchair accessible facility the dimensions of the room should be increased to allow for this obstruction and in terms of management priority should be given to disabled people.
The wheelchair accessible facility should be finished to the same décor finish as the other sanitary accommodation; the sanitary-ware, grab-rails and other facilities should contrast in colour and tone to the wall or tile colour.
The door to a wheelchair accessible WC or shower/bath room is wider and made to open outward, this is for ease of access and to enable the door to be opened in the case of an emergency. If the door opened inward it may impact with someone who has fallen on the floor, where it is not possible to open the door outward the room should be larger to create space clear of the door swing.
Consideration should also be given to the provision of a “Changing Places” WC which includes an adult changing bench. Refer to
www.changing-places.org for design standards.
A level deck shower is the preferred option for the majority of wheelchair users; however other disabled people find a bath therapeutic therefore where possible both a bath and a level deck shower should be included especially in hotel accommodation. As before the décor should be finished to the same standard as other bathrooms and should employ colour contrast between sanitary-ware, grab-rails etc and the wall or tile finish.
The accessibility of an existing building can be greatly enhanced without the need to build or knock down features, for example by improving signage, colour contrast, furniture and other equipment, and good management procedures.
Signage should be in sentence case using a clear font that is sans serif – it is advisable to also use simple graphics. Signs should be tactile by being embossed rather than engraved, and contrasted in colour and tone to the background against which they are set. The sign itself should also contrast to the wall or other background against which it is set and be consistently located throughout a building. Where possible Braille should be included. Refer to the Sign Design Guide.
The use of a reasonably modest contrast in colour and tone will greatly improve spatial awareness for a person who is blind or partially sighted and will assist in the location of doors, grab-rails, signs etc. Colour can also be used to assist in way finding.
In NI there is now a requirement to take account of the LRV, that is the light reflective value, of walls to floor and ceiling and doors to walls etc.
The concept of tonal and colour contrast can be carried through to the general décor of a building, for example a carpet with a busy pattern can be confusing but careful design of the floor finish can be employed to assist with way-finding.
A deep pile carpet will be difficult to negotiate for a person using a wheelchair or walking aid, similarly a floor with a high shine finish can look slippy and be off-putting.
Soft furnishings can be employed to influence acoustics and to create a welcoming atmosphere.
As improvements are made to existing buildings it is important to also take account of the evacuation needs of people with disabilities.
In planning evacuation it is important to consider not only those who use the premises everyday and are familiar with the location of evacuation routes but also visitors to premises who do not have the same knowledge.
Stairs should be designed to enable a swift and safe evacuation including the use of evacuation equipment. Refuge spaces should be provided on all landings, these should be clearly marked out and include two-way communication, audible and visual, and clear, tactile signage.
There is a range of evacuation equipment available to assist with the evacuation of disabled people from buildings such as vibrating warning devices, visible and audible alarms, evacuation chairs etc.
Building management should create PEEPs, that is Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans, for both known and unknown visitors to their premises.
Part E (NI) and Part B (ROI) govern provision for the evacuation of disabled people from buildings, reference should also be made to BS9999, and to guidance published by DHSS+PS (NI) and NDA (ROI).
The Building Regulations in both the North and South of Ireland require that dwellings be designed so as to enable a wheelchair user to visit and to make use of habitable rooms and sanitary accommodation.
As before there are subtle differences between the requirements in North and South, however it is advised that all new dwellings are designed to the “Lifetime Homes” standard which embraces the visitability standard but is a slightly higher standard.
A Lifetime Home includes features such as a downstairs WC with the space to incorporate the installation of a shower the capacity for a downstairs bedroom and the installation of a lift. The concept of a Lifetime Home is that an individual could continue to live in the same home if they acquired a disability or as their needs change.
It should be noted that a Lifetime Home is not the same as a wheelchair standard house and different features will be required in a home designed for a wheelchair user.