Just what are your legal obligations around physical access?
From 2004, the Disability Discrimination Act has stated that all organisations must ‘remove, alter or avoid disabling physical features’ or provide alternative means to avoiding the barrier.
The most sensible approach to deliver this is to remove or alter the ‘physical feature’, rather than avoid or provide alternative means to the barrier. The Disability Rights Commission, now part of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, state that this is likely to be the most cost-effective and satisfactory long-term solution for both the service provider and for disabled people wishing to access a service.
If physical barriers are removed, disabled people can access services alongside non-disabled people and there is no need for ‘special’ entrances, or routes. The concept of including everyone from the start and not offering partitioned or partial choice to some groups is one of the principals of inclusive design.
For more on inclusive design, check out the Inclusive design toolkit available to download from the London Development Agency:
Those building new premises or making significant adaptations to existing buildings are expected to create access statements that illustrate how their plans meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.
For more on access statements, check out the Access statements information generated by the Disability Rights Commission. You can access it here:
Organisations in rented spaces
Many arts organisations rent space within buildings and therefore feel that they have little control over some access issues. It is important to remember that landlords have a duty under Section 27 of the DDA, not to unreasonably withhold consent for tenants to make reasonable adjustments to their premises, as long as it is in order to comply with a duty under the DDA, and that it has been requested in writing. This will be the case, even if the lease states that alterations are not to be undertaken, as Section 16(2) of the DDA may override these restrictions.
A landlord who can see the benefit of an accessible building - and who is willing to incur some costs towards making adjustments to the common parts - will encourage amicable relationships with existing tenants and give themselves a lead when looking to re-let vacant space, or when disposing of their building.
Organisations based in buildings with less flexible landlords may need to be able to show that they have considered the option of relocation to a more accessible space. Some organisations rent or hire additional space in an accessible building for some elements of their operation, if moving the whole organisation is not financially or artistically viable.