Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Access Audit Advice

What is an Access Audit?

An Access Audit (also known as a DDA audit, Disability Discrimination Act Audit or Disabled Access Audit) is an assessment of a building, an environment or a service against best practice standards to benchmark it's accessibility to disabled people.

The audit should set out clear recommendations with priority ratings and costs to enable you to plan and budget for necessary adjustive works.

An access audit consultant should focus on reasonable adjustments, as is required by the Equality Act, thus avoiding unnecessary and costly measures which can often be seen within Audits prepared by less experienced and unqualified auditors.

So what is the DDA/Equality Act?

The Disability Discrimination Act came into force in 1996 and made it illegal to discriminate against a disabled person for reasons related to his or her disability. This covered the fields of employment, service provision, transport and education. The DDA required employers, service providers and education providers to make reasonable adjustments to avoid discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 brought together all anti-discrimination legislation into one Act and covers disability, race, gender, religious, sex and age discrimination and supersedes the DDA but the requirements remain much the same.

The Equality Act has different requirements depending on whether you are an employer, service provider or an educational establishment. The best way to establish these is to speak to an Access Consultant who will advise how the Act applies to you.

How is the DDA/Equality Act enforced?

Unlike other statutory law there is no Local Authority or Government Officer who enforces the legislation it is left to an individual disabled person to bring a civil action against an organisation where they feel aggrieved.

Why do I need an Access Audit?

An Access Audit helps you to understand your obligations under the Equality Act. It identifies barriers to access, sets out options for removing these barriers, assesses which option is the most reasonable and then makes a clear recommendation as to which option to implement, when to do it and how much it will cost.

By having a DDA audit and then implementing it's recommendations you will be able to demonstrate that you have adopted a reasonable approach which will help you to defend a complaint or action brought against you by a disabled person but, more importantly you will be improving access for disabled people and, in all likelihood many other users.

The Equality Act Code of Practice states that the completion of an Access Audit by a 'suitably qualified person' will 'help service providers to meet their obligations under the Act'.

What should an Access Audit cover?

The scope of the audit will depend on how the Equality Act applies to you which an access consultant should discuss and agree with you before quoting. A thorough audit should generally cover all elements of your building and environment following the 'journey' of a disabled user. Typically an audit would cover:

    Approach and Car Parking
    Horizontal Circulation - corridors
    Lifts and Stairs
    Internal Doors
    Signage and Wayfinding
    Means of Escape for Disabled People

There are usually many other site specific elements which may also need to be covered so ensure you check these with your access audit consultant.

As section 3 of the Equality Act covers all elements of your service we can also offer audits of other services such as:

    Communication Audits (leaflets, menus guidebooks etc)
    Website Access Audits - checking accessibility for users with visual impairments and learning difficulties
    Policy and Procedure Audit - checking that you policies and procedures do not discriminate against disabled people

Our audits are presented in a user friendly format using photographs to illustrate each issue with clearly defined recommendations which are prioritised and costed. We are happy to supply an example on request.

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