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DDA accessibility guidelines for public amenities

Robin Kettle
Access Auditor, Access All Areas

Could your disability access toilet facilities put your business 'down the pan'?

Did the above statement made you laugh? Sadly that question is very much a reality and if you are serious about protecting your business you seriously need to read on!

As a person with a disability living in the United Kingdom, I find it disturbing that many hotels, restaurants and shops that offer disabled toilet facilities are not only failing their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) but are in fact putting people with disabilities at risk of accident or injury.

Disability access toilets have very specific requirements under the DDA¹. These requirements are not pie in the sky, over the top, rules and regulations implemented by those upstairs in government. They are carefully considered to meet the needs of people with a range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, and learning disabilities.

A disabled toilet compartment has to meet the needs of all people with disabilities and offer safe transfer both on and off the toilet for people in wheelchairs. The serious lack of facilities such as drop down grab rails and support rails not only makes using these public bathrooms difficult (if not impossible), it makes them dangerous and puts the person at risk. Further more it puts the company that offers such facilities at risk, as they are responsible should any claim of injury arise!

The regulations for wheelchair accessible toilets and the facilities offered are very extensive and should never be installed without professional instruction or advice.

For example, emergency pull cords need to meet specific requirements and be reachable from both the toilet (seated position) and the immediate floor area, incase of a fall.

Apart from addressing safety issues, businesses installing such facilities need to remember that the Disability Discrimination Act also requires suitable facilities for managing personal hygiene, including accessible wash basins, soap dispensers, toilet paper and paper towels. These fittings and fixtures need to be designed and installed so they are readily accessible to a person in a wheelchair and when seated on the toilet.

The above considerations only touch on a few of the basic requirements for disability access public toilets. Yet, my experience in the UK has revealed few businesses comply with even these specifications. From over 200 access audits, a staggering 95%² of disabled bathroom facilities offered for public use by businesses, hotels, shops and similar premises were found to be not only illegal but dangerous, and could result in the company being sued. In addition many newly fitted toilets for people with disabilities were found to be incorrectly installed.

With this in mind I'd like to encourage businesses to reassess the standards of disability access toilets on their premises, to ensure they meet the needs of their customers with limited mobility. Customers whose spending power is around 64 billion pounds a year - and of course, it is also important if businesses want to avoid the threat of a massive court settlement should an accident result.

Footnote 1: The British Standards 8300 and Buildings Regulations Part M are the current UK regulations for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) as of October 2004.

Footnote 2: The percentage figures quoted are from the author's own findings following more than 200 access audits.

About the author

Robin is an access auditor and founder of Access All Areas, a UK based consulting service for accessibility in the built environment. Robin is a wheelchair user himself and has first hand experience about access issues and practical solutions to help businesses comply with the Disability Discrimination Act.

Published: January 2006

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