Improving accessibility is sound business practice
The Paralympics showcased the ability of wheelchair users but, in the real world, a daily obstacle course continues, writes LOUISE BRUTON
IF YOU are part of the 13 per cent of the Irish population with a disability, then you know Dublin’s city centre is an obstacle course – and that you don’t get a medal for completing it.
Getting around is difficult, as public transport is unreliable or unsuitable and footpaths are uneven or can be cordoned off due to road works. When you reach your destination, you may discover there is no way to get inside unless some bystander lends a hand.
Once inside, seeking to perform a basic task such as using the bathroom could leave you heading back out the door searching for a McDonald’s.
While building regulations since 1990 have outlined access needs for people with disabilities, it is only since January 1st, 2010 that all new buildings and renovated buildings have to acquire a disability access certificate. Any building, with the exception of a private home, requiring planning permission or a fire certificate has to attain the disability cert – which costs €800 – and work cannot commence without it.
The condition – laid down under Part M of the Building Control Regulations 2010 – does not apply to older buildings, however, which means there is no legal obligation to adjust the many public properties constructed during the boom years, or earlier. But is there a moral obligation?
The regulations say “buildings should be designed so that they are easy for people to use and reflect the fact that all people experience changes in their abilities as they progress through the different stage of life”. The Government has committed to a 2015 deadline to make its buildings fully compliant with the regulations, and, while they appear to be on target, these spaces are not part of everyone’s daily routine.
There are other public spaces as well as commercial properties which are used by people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, and by omitting these from adjustments some people are immediately excluded from their services.
The 2011 Census reported that 13 per cent of the population (595,335) had a disability, up from 9.3 per cent (393,785) in 2006. But a survey by the National Disability Authority concluded the figure could be closer to 18.5 per cent, depending on the definition of disability.
Kanchi, a non-profit organisation which works with businesses on disability and which last week held a conference on the issue with healthcare company Covidien, argues that if retailers improved at least one aspect of accessibility they could increase their custom by up to 20 per cent.
“It is worth keeping in mind that it isn’t only people with disabilities that will benefit from more accessibility,” its network manager Nikki Hegarty says. “A shop that is easy for a wheelchair user to negotiate will also be easier for a mum with a pram; a large-font menu will not only be easier for someone that is visually impaired, it will also help for someone that has simply forgotten their reading glasses.”
A good news story is the fact Dublin Bus plans to have a fully accessible fleet by the end of this year.