DCAN 11 (Draft): Access for all - Designing for an Accessible Environment
1.1 Our built environment has not been designed with the needs of people with disabilities in mind, yet it is estimated that about 20% of the population has some form of permanent or temporary disability (Equality Commission for Northern Ireland ). This represents some 340,000 people.
Disability covers more than the obvious conditions, such as blindness or use of a wheelchair. Breathlessness, pain, the need to walk with a stick, difficulty in gripping because of paralysis or arthritis, lack of physical co-ordination, partial sight, deafness and even pregnancy can all affect a person’s mobility in the environment.
1.2 The physical barriers often presented by the built environment can severely restrict the mobility of many people. They have also made it difficult, if not impossible for people with disabilities to gain access to jobs, services, housing and entertainment.
1.3 The Programme for Government wants to enable people with disabilities in Northern Ireland “to achieve the highest possible standard of living and to be fully integrated within our society.”
1.4 This complements a central objective of Government policy, namely the creation of an inclusive society, and this means social, economic and physical inclusion. The ultimate goal is a modern, cohesive society in which all members of the community are included in everything that they do – at work, at home and enjoying themselves.
1.5 The needs of disabled people are explicitly recognised in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA). This legislation has introduced measures to make it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people and from October 2004 service providers such as shops, restaurants, banks, local authorities and government departments, will be obliged to take reasonable steps to remove or overcome physical barriers to access to buildings where services are provided.
1.6 The new rights introduced by the DDA and the changing state of our built environment - whether by new development, redevelopment of outdated buildings or the upgrading and refurbishment of historic buildings - provide an opportunity to secure a more accessible environment for everyone. It is part of good design and is beneficial to business.
1.7 This Advice Note has been drawn up following discussions with Disability Action, the Equality Commission and the Chief Building Control Officers Group. It seeks to increase awareness among building owners and managers, architects, surveyors and developers about their statutory and legal obligations regarding the needs of people with disabilities. Information about undertaking an access audit is included together with advice regarding improved access to historic buildings and sites.
1.8 The Advice Note also provides supplementary design guidance for developers and their agents aimed at creating a more accessible environment for all in support of the Department’s planning policies.
1.9 The guidance is clearly focused on people with disabilities, but creating a more accessible and hospitable environment will also benefit others, such as the elderly, carers, parents with small children, people with temporary mobility problems (e.g. a leg in plaster) or simply those carrying luggage or heavy shopping.
1.10 The process of achieving a more accessible environment is relevant to all parties involved in the design, procurement, construction and occupation or investment in buildings, as well as for those granting or refusing statutory consents. The Department would therefore encourage all those involved in designing for access to consult widely with disabled users, access consultants and disability access groups who can provide useful advice on how services and access arrangements can be best provided for all employees and visitors.
1.11 Put simply the objective of this Advice Note is to help promote a more inclusive environment with access for all.