27 February 2004

The Act will have a profound effect on the design and build of non-domestic public buildings and for end clients, specifiers and contractors, the need to source products and services that accommodate the requirements, will become of paramount importance. The scene was set in October 2001 with the publication of BS8300 (2001), design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people, which sets out the standards by which inclusive design can be judged.

The issue of DDA compliance has been a much debated topic over recent years but from this autumn, lip service will no longer be enough as providers have to ensure that there are no physical barriers stopping or making it unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use those services. So what does DDA compliance actually mean and how is the industry working to meet this?

“Essentially, there is no such thing as a DDA compliant product,” explains David Tierney, Group Sales & Marketing Director of Gradus, a company that has already invested a great deal of time and resources into the DDA requirements. “Rather, manufacturers are working to offer products, which when combined within a scheme can create an inclusive environment that eliminates physical barriers. In effect any feature that could prevent a disabled person using the facilities.”

Up to 17% of the UK population has some form of disability, with over 2 million alone being blind or partially sighted. Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the inability to walk that constitutes disability. JMU Access Partnership, one of the UK’s leading access consultants, estimates that as we have an aging population the incidence of disability will increase. The introduction of the next DDA installment is therefore, a vital step in ensuring accessibility for an increasing segment of the population. To this end, JMU Access Partnership has been organising a number of workshops to ensure that manufacturer’s products and services are working to meet the criteria, and manufacturers like Gradus - a market leader for contract flooring accessories - has already taken advantage of the sessions to educate its sales and customer support team.

“The whole issue of DDA compliance has arguably been a contentious subject, therefore we felt it was essential that we invested in the training, continues David Tierney. Our business has been built upon product knowledge and providing advice to specifiers and contractors on product selection and installation. We know our products such as stair edgings, entrance matting and wall protection are key parts of a compliant environment of a building and specifiers and contractors rightfully would expect us to be knowledgeable about DDA and our products”.

The training with the sales and customer support team completes a further stage of Gradus’s plans on DDA. Since the late 1990’s, Gradus has been working on new product development, building in the needs of the DDA, in a number of areas including stair profiles and trims, entrance matting, handrails, floor and wall coverings, as well as researching the use of colour and material selection, which is a crucial element of the DDA’s requirements. A few years ago, JMU Access Partnership, in association with ICI and the University of Reading produced the findings of Project Rainbow, which analysed the use of colour and luminance contrast in helping to define features and edges. The results showed that colour contrast significantly assisted partially sighted people to define way-finding strategies.

“Having attended JMU Access Partnership training sessions, we as a business have been able to analyse our products to ensure we fully understood how BS8300, Part M of the Building Regulations and the DDA would affect our three core product groups of matting, wall protection and flooring accessories. Ultimately it has allowed us to extend our expertise on design issues and considerations such as the use of colour and contrast in stair edgings - recommending that the insert and carrier should be of the same colour and contrast with surrounding flooring,” continues Tierney. “By the same token, entrance matting in doorways that allows free movement for wheelchair users across the surface. Results that we can then pass on to our customers to be incorporated into the design of a building.”

JMU Access Partnership provides a comprehensive range of workshops including Access Awareness, Access in the Pedestrian Environment, Colour Contrast and Lighting, Planning for Access, and Appraisals, Audits and Accessibility. “We advise clients to carry out an access audit, with which we can help,” says Sharon Almond of JMU Access Partnership. “This identifies barriers and hazards to mobility within an environment. We can then make recommendations on how they can be overcome. Since 1996, it has been illegal for service providers to treat disabled people less favourably. The introduction of the next phase of the DDA will enable people with sensory, cognitive and physical disabilities to move around safely, independently and without undue restriction. This is not only a legislative requirement but a moral one as we enter an age of social inclusion rather than exclusion. Service providers and manufacturers should be anticipatory and consider changes prior to the October 1st date.”

By attending the training sessions and investing heavily in NPD, Gradus is pre-empting the implementation of the DDA requirements. “Month on month, enquiries are increasing for information on, for instance, tactile warning surfaces, alternatives to coir matting for entranceways and colour contrasting stair edgings,” concludes David Tierney. “The knowledge we have gained through training is already reflected in the advice we are providing for specifiers and contractors.”

The DDA has ensured that inclusive design has been thrown to the forefront of modern environmental design and for Gradus, the arrival of this act allows the company to use the three key values of good design, safety and performance to broaden the appeal of a building to a wider use group and allows an area of opportunity to improve the design and quality of public environments.

For further information and assistance on the DDA please contact the Gradus Technical Advice Centre on: 01625 428922 or log onto www.jmuaccess.org.uk

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