Improving accessibility in your building
How to make your building more accessible, and why you should want to.
As an employer, homeowner or facilities manager, it’s your responsibility to make sure the building you are responsible for is accessible to everyone that needs it. If that building is anything other than a residential home, you are legally obligated to:
- ensure that people with a disability have dignified, equitable, cost-effective and reasonably achievable access to buildings and facilities and services within buildings
- give building certifiers, building developers and building managers certainty that providing access in compliance with the standards also complies with the Act.
Even if you’re only responsible for your able-bodied family’s home, you might want to consider the effect of a wheelchair user or blind person visiting your home unexpectedly. Just to make movement easier as you age, accessibility improvement is critical.
Why is it important to improve accessibility?
Improving accessibility is important for several reasons, and it benefits business owners as much as it does people with disability. If you close off your building to everyone with certain disabilities, you miss out on the chance to employ, serve or otherwise interact with them.
With 20% of Australia identifying as disabled, that is 4 million potential customers, employees and allies that you have missed out on. If someone with the money to save your business from bankruptcy can’t get inside your building, they will go elsewhere. Your loss.
Most importantly, though, is our duty to each other as humans and Australians. We pride ourselves on fairness and our Aussie hospitality, and that is nothing if it doesn’t extend to everyone.
It isn’t just an inconvenience for people to be unable to enter a building. Some people that have become disabled recently are traumatised from an accident or illness that caused their disability.
Going from an able-bodied person to needing a wheelchair is a huge adjustment. And, being flung out of your chair by uneven flooring or having to ask for help getting around is an easy way to re-traumatise those that have already been through so much.
How to improve accessibility for disabled people
To improve accessibility for people with disabilities, consider the variance in the word itself. Someone that is blind will need different accessibility aids than someone that is deaf, and someone with a wheelchair will have other needs too.
Here are some ways that you can improve accessibility in your building:
Wheelchair users are often the first people that we think of when we hear the word disabled. So, it might be surprising to hear that they make up just 4.4% of disabled people.
Still, wheelchairs need to get into buildings, but even the shortest step up can make it impossible. Wheelchair ramps are small rubber wedges that are placed under raised ledges or single steps to create a sturdy ramped edge for wheeled traffic.
Wheelchair ramps aren’t only useful to wheelchair users, though. Families with pushchairs, people with bikes and couriers with trolleys all need ramps to enter elevated buildings.
Of the 4.4% that need a wheelchair, not all need it full time. Many people with disabilities can walk short distances but rely on a wheelchair for longer distances and periods. Falls mats are padded foam that offers protection from fall injuries.
Fall mats give people with reduced mobility the best chance at independence. You will most often see them in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, especially around reception and bathroom areas.
Installing fall mats in high use areas gives part-time wheelchair users and other people with reduced mobility the ability to make movements quickly and confidently. Without fall mats, small errands require more time spent getting in and out of a chair.
Most multi-story commercial and public buildings already have lifts, but whether that’s for convenience or accessibility we will never know…
Lifts are a great alternative inside when ramps are not possible. They let wheelchair users get upstairs without taking up too much space (as a big ramp would). Lifts also go vertically, whereas a ramp would have to be dangerously steep to even get close.
Lifts are important for people in wheelchairs and with mobility devices, as well as workers with trolleys and parents with prams. Install elevator mats in your lifts to prevent fire spread and slip accidents. They also offer the bonus of a cleaner floor outside your lifts.
Over 350,000 Australians have little or no vision, so providing other means of navigating your building is critical. If a blind person is not warned of stairs, the resulting accident could be fatal. Signs should be bright and use contrasting colours to be seen easily.
Tactile indicators are the most common signage for people that are visually impaired. They are small, raised bumps or lines on the ground that people with full vision barely even notice. To a blind or partially blind person, though, tactile indicators are a lifesaver.
Tactile indicators warn people about oncoming danger. That could be stairs or overhangs, or it could be a change of direction. Installing tactile indicators in your building helps everybody find their way independently and safely.
Mat recesses – or mat wells – are ditches for mats to sit inside. Next time you walk into a shopping centre or museum, check out the entrance mat – I bet it is sitting in a mat recess!
Their purpose is to keep a mat at the same height as the floor, as well as to prevent it from moving around. Fitting a mat into a recess stops it from causing a slip hazard, which a loose laid entrance mat without non slip backing would.
Mat recesses also have other benefits: they contain shredded coir fibres, they protect the edge of your matting and they allow wheeled traffic to pass overhead. These keep floors clean and people safe, whatever their ability.
How to improve accessibility
To improve your building’s accessibility, make sure you have tactile indicators where needed. Also, provide ramps on even the tiniest of steps, because wheelchair users can be thrown out of their chairs without them. Lifts with mats, clear signs and recessed mats can go the extra mile for people that use wheelchairs and have poor eyesight.
The best way to keep your building welcoming to disabled people is to keep reviewing your accessibility standards. Go over every updated version of the disability standards and take note of your customers, employees and visitors.
For personalised recommendations on improving accessibility in your building, reach out to the team. As always, the matxperts are happy to share their knowledge to help you find your perfect matting solutions.