By today, organisations that deal with the public should have complied with the Disability Discrimination Act by making their services accessible to people with disabilities. What constitutes a fully DDA-compliant building has yet to be decided, as this will be determined by a body of case law. In the meantime, David Burdus of access consultant Burdus Access Management offers five tips to help specifiers make sure their client’s building is disability-friendly. For more information see ‘Regulations roundup’, page 81.

1 Door access

To check door handles are easy to use for people with limited movement in their hands, try taping your hand up with sticky tape to create an artificial impediment. Wrap the tape a couple of times around your fingernails, over your thumb and across your knuckles to complete a loop. It does not have to be tight; it just has to stop you gripping handles in the usual way. If you can still operate the handle this is a good indication that it is compliant. With card-operated doors, always choose a proximity reader rather than a slot reader as it is much easier to hold a card near a reader than swipe it through a slot.

2 Disabled toilets

Specifying a Part M-compliant fixtures-and-fittings pack does not necessarily make a disabled toilet easy to use.

For example, some of the drop rails that users require to manoeuvre out of a wheelchair onto the toilet can still be difficult to slide down easily without slamming. Use versions fitted with a resistance mechanism for best results. Check wheelchair users can get their knees under washbasins – large traps can cause problems and earth tags on water pipes can cut people. Also, make sure the area is big enough – even the addition of a bin can make toilets difficult to use.

3 Alarms

Visual alarms are necessary for deaf people but can cause problems for other people. Successful prosecutions have been brought against companies where epilepsy suffers have had fits brought on by flashing strobes used in visual alarms. Look at specifying visual indicators other than strobes.

4 Visual contrast

Put some scrunched-up clingfilm over the lenses of a pair of sunglasses and use these to check there is sufficient contrast between light switches and walls and stair nosings and treads.

5 Lifts

Use the sunglasses test to check whether stainless-steel lift-control panels are easily visible, and the buttons are clearly illuminated. Check the panel inside the lift clearly indicates what floor the lift is at, and that the panel is at least 600 mm away from the corners as wheelchair users cannot manoeuvre into corners.