From 1 October 2004, when part three of the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force, it will be necessary to remove physical barriers that prevent disabled people from using a service
Many service providers are now beginning to plan for the change by auditing their buildings for compliance. An audit would result in a list of physical adaptations that could be expensive, take years to complete and cause disruption to services.

However, this process may not be the answer: building owners and tenants can reduce the costs of the change by understanding what is really required by the act.

The philosophy of the act is that disabled people should be able to use the service provided within a building. It does not suggest that the whole of the building should be made accessible. Changes to give access to the service should be reasonable and achievable. It states that the service can be provided either in a different manner, on a different site, by use of new technology or by the removal of a physical barrier.

Some physical alterations will be unavoidable, but their number can be reduced by taking a strategic approach. So first take a look at the service. Then, use an audit to establish how, and where, the service is provided. It may be possible to reduce the amount of physical adaptation by moving the service or by providing it in a different manner. Telephone and internet banking is a good example of how a service can be changed to make it accessible.

Once the service has been audited, the policies, practice and procedure can be amended to provide as much access as possible within the existing environment. For instance, services that are housed in inaccessible rooms might be moved to a more accessible space. Once the ability to use the accessible parts of the building most efficiently has been established, it is a simple matter to target these areas of the building to provide a manageable plan of recommended adaptations.

There are also many opportunities to improve access to the building within existing building maintenance budgets. A policy that takes advantage of this will reduce the financial burden of the changes still further. For example, the building's colour scheme might include contrasting colours to help visually impaired people use it.

Using a strategic approach to any changes will lead to savings for many building occupiers and should provide a better provision of service for disabled people.