Inclusive building design under the spotlight

By Kelvin Grimes, project manager for ‘away from home’ assisted accessible toilets at Clos-o-Mat.

As a result of developments in the past couple of months alone, architects need to be even more aware of accessibility and inclusivity in their design of buildings to which the public have access, be it new build or refurbishments.

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 & Disability has just closed a call for evidence on gaps and adjustments needed in the legislation, and specifically itemised accessibility of buildings as part of the remit; that Committee report is due by the end of March 2016. AA evidence was called for, accessibility campaigners reminded building designers and operators that, under the Equality Act, ‘reasonable’ adjustment should be made to the built environment where a disabled person would otherwise be at a ‘substantial’ disadvantage, and those steps should be taken BEFORE a situation arose: in their mind, having to lay a disabled child or adult on the floor to undertake personal hygiene because appropriate toilet facilities were not available, amounted to a ‘substantial’ disadvantage.

Almost simultaneously, the Premier League announced all its clubs were to achieve compliance with the Accessible Stadia Guide by 2017. Supplementary guidance has just been published on the Guide, including amenity & access seating, Changing Places toilets, sensory barriers, and the need for access audits and plans.

There is a tangible reason why accessibility is becoming a ‘hot topic’: we have 11 million registered disabled people in the UK – almost 1:5 of the population, and as we live longer, that figure is only going to increase.

Research shows that 3 in 4 people reported they have moved away from spending in supermarkets, restaurants due to a lack of disability awareness – that lost business equates to £1.8 billion – and evidence further indicates that people make a conscious decision not to visit somewhere if they believe they will not find suitable toilets there.

So it is almost all buildings to which the public have access that need to address accessibility, as well as the big venues. And accessibility encompasses a huge ambit – from physically getting in and out, where to sit, and how to enjoy the facilities while there, including eating, drinking, and going to the toilet.

We all go to the loo, on average eight times a day, so the chances are if you’re are away from home, you will need the toilet.

Many supposedly accessible/Document M compliant facilities actually do not meet the needs of the users – assuming they can even get in there to start with! Wheelchairs need more space, not just in the cubicle, but the corridor outside, to move up to the door, away from the door while it is opened, and then through the door. Most disabled people are NOT wheelchair users, but have issues such as balance, strength, mobility. If that door is on a weighted closer, maybe for fire regulations, even getting it open long enough to get inside can be an experience! Inside, there may be the equipment, but the layout may be wrong. The WC may be hard against the wall, limiting transfer. Pull cords are often tied up and ‘out of the way’, defeating their purpose: to the extent that in itself has become a social media campaign (Ewans Guide). The basin may be set too high.

In an ideal world, all accessible toilets in town and shopping centres, tourist attractions, pubic buildings, would include conventional Document M wheelchair-accessible facilities, and the newer counterpart Changing Places. Indeed, under the latest Document M, and BS8300:2009, Changing Places toilets are ‘desirable’ in buildings to which numbers of the public have access. In our experience, the majority of the 700+ now open across the UK are being incorporated into the venues people go for a special day out; they need as much to be added in town centres and places where people would visit on a regular basis – cafes, restaurants, shopping centres. It is those locations that able people take for granted, that are inaccessible to people who need Changing Places.

Changing Places give more space – a minimum 12m2 – and more equipment, particularly a hoist and adult-sized changing bench. Thus people who need the help of a carer to toilet have appropriate facilities.

But to be a truly accessible, inclusive society, we need to think beyond visible disability. Approximately 20 million people in the UK have bladder and bowel problems, with almost 2 million suffering from urinary and faecal incontinence. So again, access to toilets when away from home, is important.

Inclusion of a wash/dry toilet in a conventional, accessible or assisted accessible (Changing Places) cubicle addresses that health issue, ensuring the person is discreetly and properly clean if they have had an ‘accident’. It extends beyond accessibility for disabled people though: it delivers compliance with Islamic hygiene considerations too, so further enhances inclusion.