Ensuring that buildings and facilities are accessible is a continual process. It begins with an audit of existing conditions.
Throughout Australia every year, organisations, both public and private, engage in upgrading their service offering. Much focus is placed on customer service and interaction, but this does not cover the entire customer experience. How people identify and move through the built environment greatly impacts not only their ability to participate, but also the quality of their experience. Ensuring that buildings and facilities are accessible is a continual process which begins with an audit of existing conditions. But what exactly is an access audit?
The common understanding is that an access audit involves inspecting premises or reviewing plans in order to determine compliance with relevant access legislation, codes and standards. Whilst this is true to some extent, it can nevertheless potentially be a simplified and misleading explanation.
In order to avoid confusion, you must have an understanding of what ‘Access’ actually means in this context.
The term ‘Access’ relates directly to the accessibility of the built environment for people with a disability, as well as the accessibility of the provision of goods and services, education, sporting programs, and other items detailed in Australian federal legislation: the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA).
Fundamentally the DDA states that due to a disability, it is illegal to treat a person less favourably than a person without a disability. However, this legislation alone does not provide a sufficient benchmark against which to conduct an audit, as it is comprised of non-prescriptive elements that cannot be easily be measured.
With the introduction of the Disability (Access to Premises- Buildings) Standards 2010 (DAPS) in Australia, there are now minimum standards for access to new buildings and buildings undergoing significant upgrade. The DAPS, however, do not address access for every element within a building.
There is a variety of legislation, standards, codes, guidelines, and other references that will need to be used and considered in order to determine if appropriate access is provided throughout an entire building or facility.
This includes standards that will have an impact on the accessibility of the premises for people with a range of disabilities including mobility, vision, hearing, intellectual ability, and cognitive ability.
In addition to considering minimum legislated access standards, effective access audits of the built environment will also often need to consider the day to day operations of the premises, the premises type, management issues, maintenance, and safety in addition to other relevant standards. A comprehensive access audit of premises should also encompass egress and needs to consider access and safety in emergency situations.
For example, fixtures and fittings within buildings, parks and open spaces, streetscapes and playgrounds are generally not covered by the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010. Other standards, references and information will need to be considered to determine if appropriate access is provided to these areas. Similarly, many wayfinding, communication systems and information processes will also sit outside the Premises Standards.
Customised benchmarking is required in order to effectively audit the areas not covered by mandatory legislation, codes and standards. These benchmarks can be established by using best practice guidelines, expert opinion documentation, comparison against other reputable and reliable organisational work, and non-mandatory standards.
Regardless of what elements are audited and what standards are used to benchmark, a report is developed incorporating recommendations for access improvements, rather than identifying shortcomings and applying penalties.
Access audits are vital in planning works and assessing the strengths and weaknesses in a single building or a whole host of facilities.
Only qualified and accredited Access Consultants should be engaged to undertake access audits of the built environment.