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Accessibility FAQ

What is Access?

Q. is Access all about people in wheelchairs? Am I accessible if I have ramps into my premises?

A. No, accessibility does not just imply wheelchair access, but encompasses all disabilities, including physical, sensory and mental impairments.

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Q. So it’s all about catering for People with Disabilities?

A. Good access benefits all people who may be using your facilities. The aged and women in maternity situations e.g. being pregnant, having small children, using prams, form a significant market for accessible environments. Including people with Disabilities this would amount to over 30% of the population. Also people carrying heavy objects, including luggage, shopping, boxes etc, will benefit greatly from good access.

An example of how all encompassing access ought to be, can be illustrated by the fact that in many overseas countries; Public transport organizations especially rail transport, considers that a staggering 30 – 35% of their passengers, are assumed to be “special needs passengers”.
This includes:
Persons with (all kinds of) Disabilities
The aged
The very young
Women with small children including those using prams
Women who are pregnant
People with temporary Disabilities (e.g. broken legs)
People carrying heavy or ungainly objects, e.g luggage.

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Explanation of the Why should we make our hotel accessible cartoon.

picture a hotel manager speaking to a rather official looking man, who has a clip board and is clearly there
to investigate the accessibility of the hotel.The manager says to the man; "why should we make our hotel accessible? We never have disabled guests!"

cartoon by David Venter
courtasy of Wobblies Ink

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Q. How do I start making my place accessible?

A. By first assessing the situation, identifying the areas good and bad, then planning and budgeting for change. Ideally access begins on the drawing board and should be built in from scratch, where this has been done has greatly saved on cost and time.

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Q What if I have already started and have ramps installed?

A As much as installing ramps etc, is commendable, it is important to establish whether they comply with Building Regulations specifications. Not just in terms of gradient but width, surface etc. Unfortunately there are thousands of examples of incredibly steep and extremely dangerous ramps that are the result of untraned amateurs installing them without reference to regulatory guidelines. A too steep ramp is as inaccessible as a brick wall, except it is more dangerous.

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Q. Can I afford to address access, won’t it be too expensive?

A. The majority of access interventions are low cost or free, such as procedure changes etc. International best practice suggests that there is a return of more than $17 for every $1 spent on addressing access. In other words, there is a good Business case to be made for good access. If access is planned for early on in refurbishment or for new structures, then the cost of its inclusion will be a fraction of what it will cost, than if one retrofits premises to incorporate accessibility later.
However if one continuously builds or alters facilities without taking access and the Law into account, then one can hardly complain about cost.

Surprisingly few people realize that Access is not a luxury but a legal requirement, in the majority of facilities that the public or staff, or customers are expected to use or visit.
This includes, Schools, offices, public buildings, gyms, restaurants, Hotels, Police stations, railway stations, Airports, Law courts, museums, shops, conference centers, training venues, Universities to name a few.
In South Africa, Part S of the National Building Regulations covers all issues pertaining access.
It is only a pity that so few people realize it and use it, particularly design and construction professionals.

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Q. Who do I turn to for help, my architect or builder, or a friend in a wheelchair?

A. Traditional architects, planners and builders are not automatically skilled or equipped to advise you about Accessibility. Incidently, neither should persons with Disabilities be automatically seen as access specialists simply because they have a disability.
An access auditor is a trained specialist. Access is a science like any other building or design discipline. As yet, no accredited course is available in South Africa, however numerous tertiary institutions all over the world offer Access related programmes, from post Matric technical courses to PhD level. As a result, there are only a handful of trained Access specialists in South Africa. The good news is that several initiatives are afoot to establish local programmes.

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Q. What is an Access audit?

A. An Access audit is a detailed analysis of the existing access of any building, establishment or facility, and if the auditor is suitably trained it could include building plans, blueprints and architectural drawings. In fact auditing plans up front, is a sure fire way to ensure the best and most cost effective access of any facility. (providing recommendations are followed)

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Q. Will an access audit automatically fix my access problems?

A. An audit is only a snapshot in time, it has no power to implement any of its recommendations. However, it would make sense to use your completed Access audit as a blueprint, against which you can plan and budget for change.

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Q. What should a professional access audit include?

A. An access audit must measure the site against international or local legal benchmarks.
It must provide a clear, illustrated, very detailed report, which ought to include the following areas:
Approach routes, street furniture, car parking, external ramps and steps, entrances, receptions and lobbies, corridors, doors, internal ramps and stairs, lifts (elevators), general and accessible toilets, internal surfaces, signage, lighting, acoustics, means of escape among others.

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Q. Is Access all about the physical environment?

A No, it is not all about the physical environment. The greatest challenge is to address attitudinal accessibility. In this authors opinion if there was more awareness and empathy implying peoples’ attitudinal access, there would be far less physical inaccessibility, if one considered that the majority of barriers are made by people.

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For more information on access and how to find professional service providers, contact