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August 2005

Access all areas: Tips from an access auditor

Robin Kettle
Access Auditor, Access All Areas

Following are two short articles on Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) compliant solutions for the built environment. The first looks at the often overlooked issue of egress (access out of the building in an emergency) and the second at the importance of colour contrast for people with vision impairments.

Access All Areas wheelchair logo

Egress from multi-storey buildings

As a person with disability first and a disability access auditor second, I've written this article to raise awareness about my concerns regarding egress by people in wheelchairs from multi-storey buildings.

On my many access audit visits up and down the country (UK) I have undertaken Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) audits in many multi-storey buildings. As a result I am greatly concerned about the DDA recommendations for areas of safe refuge within multi-storey buildings. The DDA states that such buildings should have areas of safe refuge for those unable to manage the stairs in the event of an evacuation. OK, fine so far. This surely is assuming the emergency is a fire and those in the safe refuge area will be rescued relatively quickly by the fire department if management does not/can not assist!

I personally do not have a problem with this assuming the safe refuge area has been checked thoroughly but, and the big but is, would you be happy to remain in an area of safe refuge in a large building if the emergency was say a 'bomb scare'? Would it not be better that the DDA regulation is to have Evac chairs in all multi-storey buildings with staff equipped to use them? Food for thought wouldn't you say?

As a wheelchair user I fully agree that we should be able to have access to most reasonable public buildings. However as an access auditor I feel if we can't get out of the building safely, we should not be going in it, at least not until those responsible have addressed all issues including egress.

Finally my advice to people with disability: When entering a building think about how you will get out in an emergency as well as how you will get in.

Steps showing contrasting handrails and edging

Access for people with vision impairment

I am forty five years of age and for most of my life, well the last forty three to be precise, I was under the impression that all blind people were totally blind. It was not until I became an access auditor, when I studied disabilities such as vision impairments, that I became aware of the true facts.

There are over two million registered blind people in the United Kingdom, with more than five million unregistered. 94% of blind people can see to some degree or other, be it colours, shades or distorted shapes.

It is because of this I would like to share my finding on the importance of colour and luminance contrasting to give mobility assistance to the many people with vision impairments in the world.

For example if a person with vision impairment enters a public toilet, they would usually find a white toilet system, white walls, white wash basin and possibly white tiled floor, making it difficult to locate these facilities. By painting the walls in a contrasting colour the white objects stand out and can be more easily identified by many people with vision impairment.

Handrails on stairs that are the same colour as the wall is another example, but in this case a danger when not identified. Again, the simple solution is to contrast the rails in say blue, black, green, in fact any colour that will create a strong contrast.

A large part of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, that became law on October 2004, is the requirement for contrasting of many everyday objects, to offer assistance to those millions of people with vision impairments.

Inclusive planing

Access All Areas

For more information on a variety of access audit and DDA compliant solutions aimed at ensuring safe access and egress for all visit the Access All Areas web site or email

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