Facilities may be clean, reasonably lit, and very modern, but they may also fall well short of the requirements for accessibility for people with disabilities, members of the UK Venue Managers Association were told at a meeting at the home of Newcastle United Football Club.
Key design, build and management factors include understandable signage, tactile warning surfaces, differentiated visual contrasting schemes, and visible markings on large glass windows and doors, Michael Parsons, Access Consultant (Training) for the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said.
“I have sometimes encountered what I term the ‘white box’ in the most modern facilities,” he said. “This is a public convenience which is exceptionally clean and functional: it has a white ceiling, light coloured flooring, white tiled walls, white cubicles and white fittings – but how is a person with limited sight going to find their way around? And if they eventually succeed in using the facilities, they may even find that the decorators have painted the inside of the door white as well – effectively locking them in!”
Solutions to such challenges, before they arrive, are easy to spot and simple to overcome, especially if the venue or premises manager has invited the RNIB to tour the building and audit each area for its ‘accessibility-friendliness’, not just for those with impaired sight, but also wheelchair users and people with mobility difficulties, the Deaf and hard of hearing, and even people with other disabilities too.
One of the more common mistakes is in using the recognised disability logo of a wheelchair. It is quite clear, but if it is used as a reverse image, some people are unable to mentally register it.
For those with sight impairments colours and lighting can be important. Use of different colours for walls, furniture, floors and fittings, gives a contrast, so they can often find their way around; but walking into a room where there is a bright light or a large window can dazzle the sight impaired. It is also important l to have some indication on the window or glazed door – to save people from walking directly into it.
“Between 25% and 30% of the population of the UK have some form of disability and that is likely to increase as people get older,” Michael added. “The figure breaks down to just under two million registered as blind or partially sighted, 10 million with hearing problems, and another 10 million living with arthritis. All these are recognised disabilities under the new Equality Act 2010.
“The solution is for people in charge of venues or premises where the public have access to instigate a series of checks or access audits:
- Strong and familiar icons
- Good visual contrast using different colours on different surfaces
- Clear, simplified Wayfinding and clear and understandable signage
- Tactile warning surfaces – such as the bobbles often found at pavement kerbsides
- Good and consistent lighting levels; and
- Availability of information about accessibility in different formats – print, audio, Braille etc.
“It is illegal to discriminate against a person with a disability, and this means taking reasonable steps to ensure accessibility. In practice this means that a small shopkeeper may not have to invest heavily, but the manager of a large venue that is used by people with disabilities has the resources to make accessibility an important issue, and act responsibly.”
Michael added that the RNIB has the resources to assist with such areas as accessibility audits, design and build advice, products, training and advisory literature.
“Please remember,” he told UKVMA members. “If your sign says ‘Disabled Toilet’ then call a plumber. It’s not the toilet that’s disabled, it’s the design of the facilities that are offering good access for the disabled. The toilet should be labelled as Accessible WC!”
For further information, please contact www.rnib.org.uk.