Making the Physical Environment More Accessible
Like many other people with a disability, access is an issue I struggle with on a daily basis. I go to the ATM to withdraw money and I can’t reach the machine. I try to use the disabled toilets in a shopping centre and I find that when I manoeuvre my chair inside the cubicle I can’t close the door. I go to a restaurant which the staff have assured me is accessible, only to find a step at the entrance!
I have a physical disability so cannot claim to know the challenges people with visually impaired or people who are deaf experience. I can only share my point of view. But I think I can safely say that access is an important issue for all disabled people.
The social model of disability believes that it is those types of barriers and the continuing stereotypical beliefs about disability that are the main contributory factors in disabling people. Removing the barriers which exclude/disable people is the way to bring about change e.g. if the restaurant I went to which had a step could supply a ramp, I could enter the building and enjoy a meal with my friends.
The Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) delivers their services under a social model of disability, with their main goal being to achieve maximum independence for their members. They have identified, through consultation with their members, that one of the biggest barriers to independence is access to the physical environment.
Efforts to alleviate this problem have included the establishment of a National Steering Group on Access who work with other organisations to improve knowledge and awareness of the importance of accessibility and are available to support architects, planners and developers to create more inclusive environments.
In 2009 this national steering group produced the first Best Practice Access Guidelines.
The Access Guidelines are a set of recommendations; information and guidance which have been produced for the use of developers, planners and local authorities so that they can build according to the highest possible standards, thereby ensuring that the needs and requirements of people with disabilities are fully met. They are also an excellent resource for individuals who wish to make adaptations to their own homes or premises.
On the 4th July 2014, the third edition of IWA’s ‘Access Guidelines – Designing Accessible Environments’ was launched in the Aviva Stadium.
So why has IWA updated its own Access Guidelines? The Government has a set of building regulations that provide a minimum level of accessibility in law and these have been amended in recent years. The boundaries of accessible design have grown further apart so in response IWA revisited, reviewed, amended, enhanced and added to its Best Practice Access Guidelines book to produce the third edition.
While developing this edition, IWA’s Access Team consulted with IWA members, staff and volunteers who shared their views on accessible design and their every day experiences and frustrations of trying to be out and about living their lives within the built environment of their local community.
Adherence to the Access Guidelines will improve not only the lives of disabled people. Improved access will be to the benefit of everyone, be they older people, parents with young children, children themselves and those people with a disability.
Speaking at the launch of the guidelines, IWA CEO, Kathleen McLoughlin also outlined the benefits of improved access for businesses:
“By catering for the requirements of people with disabilities, businesses can open their doors to potentially untapped streams of revenue including people with disabilities, their families, friends and broader social networks.”
IWA has a dedicated access team who operate a design guidance service whereby proposed plans and drawings can be discussed and reviewed to ensure that the best practice of accessibility is being delivered.
IWA was called on for their advice during the planning phase of the Aviva Stadium, where the launch of the guidelines took place, and the Aviva Stadium is now recognised as one of the most accessible venues in Ireland.
As well as the Aviva Stadium, “IWA was consulted during the planning phases of Terminal 2 - Dublin Airport and the regeneration of Grafton Street which is an important example of how accessibility can be easily incorporated into the blueprints of a public facility resulting in an outstanding venue which accommodates all individuals regardless of age, ability or disability”, Kathleen McLoughlin told the assembled group.
For a copy of the ‘IWA Best Practice Access Guidelines, Designing Accessible Environments - Access to Independence’ or to contact the Association for information and advice please visit www.iwa.ie/access or email firstname.lastname@example.org