The ever-present box-ticking exercises are administrative tasks that we all have to do as part of our daily lives at work and at home. These exercises are inevitable and are sometimes an irritating step that must be taken to achieve a higher goal. We tend to lose sight of the thinking behind these tasks and why it is important that these box-ticking steps are taken.
Access for disabled people should never be seen as just box-ticking because behind those ticked boxes are the needs of real disabled people. At Direct Access, our work as access consultants encounters clear signs of a box-ticking mentality where too many organisations resort to only achieving the absolute minimum legal requirement. The outcome of this attitude is often a dusty access audit sitting in a drawer that has not resulted in any action and an annoyed access consultant called to revisit an unaltered site. A good access audit will prioritise and cost recommendations to provide a range of actions that offer easy wins and more complicated long-term alterations. There will always be something that can be implemented and actions that can be carried out in the short, medium, and long term. There is always the possibility that inaction may result in failure to meet legal obligations and put an organisation at risk. The challenge for organisations is to get past the minimum box-ticking mindset and look towards the benefits of the social model of disability and the adoption of inclusive design to aspire towards best practice.
There are legal requirements that all organisations must meet regarding how they offer their services or employ disabled people. These requirements are set out in the Equality Act 2010 (EA) and are primarily concerned with the duty to make reasonable adjustments. The duty to make reasonable adjustments is triggered when a disabled person experiences a ‘substantial disadvantage’ compared to the same experience of a person who is not disabled. The duty is anticipatory which means that organisations must predict and accommodate the needs of disabled people.
There are some important and ambiguous terms in the EA such as “reasonable” and “substantial”, how are these defined? The answer is that they aren’t, and they very much depend on the status of an organisation and the particular circumstances experienced by a disabled person. In essence, the only person who can categorically define those terms is the judge delivering a verdict on an EA case. What can be established is a good standard of access for disabled people and to achieve this there are standards that offer guidance on the built environment, building management, policies, and procedures. Chief amongst these in the UK is Part M Building Regulations that detail a minimum standard with best practice guidance provided by BS8300. These documents are the tools of the trade for an access consultant and can be applied to produce an access audit that gives ‘reasonable’ recommendations that will avoid ‘substantial’ disadvantages.
Outside of the access equality for disabled people that such legislation is designed to enforce, the benefits of best practice have the potential to extend well beyond that. The Purple Pound has helped illuminate this, demonstrating that the online spending power of disabled people combined is around £16 billion pounds, and money is frequently lost in a variety of sectors for not catering to the needs of disabled people. High street shops face a £267 million pounds loss per month, transport providers lose £42 million pounds and restaurants/pubs lose £163 million pounds.
Why is an access audit important? An access audit will help your organisation meet its obligation under the Equality Act 2010 and offer actions that go beyond the minimum box-ticking, for the benefit of both disabled users and the facility owners themselves.
Written by Tom Morgan (Senior Access Consultant)
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