One problem that always arises is how to fit the requirements of the legislation into existing building policy in the most cost-effective and efficient manner. The other day I came across a system designed to assist in implementing the DDA. In fact, it seemed such a good idea that I thought it might be worth explaining it a little further.
The DDA was introduced to address the problem that arises when disabled people are not given the same opportunities as others, whether through prejudice or failure to discuss matters with a disabled person, leading to the assumption that he or she cannot carry out a task or use a service. The DDA gives disabled people new rights in the areas of:
- Access to goods, facilities and services
- Buying or renting land or property
Some of these rights were introduced from December 1996 and others are being phased in. Under the DDA, disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Obviously, the act has wide-reaching effects. A detailed examination of these is well beyond the scope of this article, but to find out more, visit the web site on www.disability.gov.uk.
One aspect that the DDA addresses is the presence of physical features in buildings that exclude disabled persons or make access much more difficult than it need be. The various codes of practice issued under the legislation make it clear that, for example, employers should consider whether minor adjustments to the workplace should be carried out to cater for the needs of a disabled person, provided that such adjustments can be said to be reasonable.
The DDA also requires the provision of auxiliary aids to assist. By 2004, those excluded by the built environment will be entitled to look for alterations in the building or premises that will remove that discriminatory physical feature. Significantly, by 2004 a mechanism will be in place for any complaints to be taken to a commission (one similar to those that already exist to investigate gender or race discrimination).
Perhaps being slightly cynical, it is this measure more than anything else that will result in the act gaining some teeth. Consequently, this will make it even more necessary for those involved in construction to be aware of the need to alter their existing buildings to comply or to incorporate any requirements into the building process.
How do you ensure that the building project you are commencing complies with the DDA requirements? It will be necessary to demonstrate that the organisation undertaking the building project has taken and is taking all reasonable steps to avoid discriminating against disabled people. The key word is, of course, “reasonable”. How do you prove that you have been and are being reasonable in this regard?
This is where the clever bit comes in: you adopt a system designed to ensure DDA compliance. It was just such a system I heard about the other day when I was discussing the DDA with David Burdus and Roger Neville, who operate Burdus Access Management. Burdus has been actively involved in advising organisations on DDA compliance since its enactment. Its workload has been expanding rapidly as the industry becomes aware of the necessity to comply with the DDA. To meet the need to demonstrate DDA compliance, Burdus has developed the DDA 2004 Compliance System.
By 2004 a mechanism will be in place for any complaints to be taken to a commission. Being slightly cynical, it is this that will result in the act gaining some teeth
DDA 2004 provides an agreed, project-specific brief for plans to be access audited up to the end of RIBA stage D. Then, allied with continued monitoring from the detailed design stage through to practical completion, and then through a feedback process, the system will enable the client to demonstrate that it has taken a reasoned approach to incorporating the DDA requirements and that the project can be said to be “reasonable” in terms of DDA compliance.
All of this occurs in the most effective and efficient manner, designed to maximise access.
Burdus provides a system that is tailor-made to each project, but which follows a number of basic stages. These include:
- Adopting DDA policy
- Introducing practice and procedure to everyone involved
- Building DDA principles into the client’s operations and communications policies
- Providing guides for measuring and planning cost-effective and maximum access, using the constraints imposed on the project (available space, cost and time) as the yardsticks to measure “reasonableness”
- Compiling an Access Declaration and Record during the process, enabling the client to demonstrate how it is being reasonable in delivering access.
The lesson to be learned about implementing the DDA – which is emphasised by the Burdus system – is that the sooner you tackle it in the building process, the easier it is to incorporate and the more benefit everyone will have.
Like it or not, we will soon reach the stage where people will be able to take action to enforce the DDA’s provisions. Clearly, it would be better for the industry to address these issues now and work out how best to incorporate the DDA into thinking on every project.
Simon Lewis is a partner at solicitor Dickinson Dees in Newcastle upon Tyne.