Designing essential facilities

Ensuring the needs of disabled people are properly met should be a much higher priority when planning essential facilities


  • Ian Streets

09 November 2019

It should be so easy to get the basics right but far too often accessible toilet provision for disabled people is continuing to fall short of the mark. It's a subject we keep coming back to, because we continue to see things that not only breach guidance and regulations but fly in the face of simple common sense.

To start with, it's worth checking the provisions of BS 8300-2: 2018 Design of an accessible and inclusive built environment. Buildings code of practice , and noting that changes made in preparing the standard mean they differ in parts from Approved Document M.

In summary, BS 8300-2 says any building to which members of the public have access in numbers would benefit from provision of a Changing Place. These are designed for people with complex needs, providing a WC that can be accessed from both sides, a height-adjustable changing bench for adults, a ceiling-tracked hoist, and a room measuring at least 3m by 4m with a minimum height of 2.4m, among other design features.

Section 18.6 of BS 8300: 2018 part 2 gives more detail and offers examples: 'Accessible sanitary accommodation ought to be no less pleasant and convenient to use than equivalent non-accessible facilities. It needs to contain all of the amenities that would be provided elsewhere, [such as] mirrors and hairdryers, but without compromising the functionality of the space.'

It is the size of that space that is at the heart of the changes to BS 8300. Approved Document M is the baseline requirement in terms of accessibility, but is limited in terms of the areas that it covers. As an access consultant, I would urge designers to go beyond the document, which still only requires a minimum 1.5m by 2.2m space for a unisex wheelchair-accessible WC, as since 2018 the BS 8300 guidance recommends 1.7m by 2.2m.

BS 8300 also now accepts that, in smaller establishments, a self-contained unit can include a baby-changing table as well, provided that the minimum room width is increased from 1.7m to 2m and an extra hand basin is added. It recommends, too that larger buildings and complexes should have a Changing Place.

Consideration should be given to each of the facilities inside the cubicle of an accessible toilet. Is there enough space for the user, their mobility equipment and any bags? The position of the toilet is important as well: it should be close to a wall, enabling the user to support themselves if necessary. It should also be in easy reach of the wash basin, soap dispenser and paper towels, which is desirable for able-bodied people and vital for disabled people.

The different impairments of users also need to be considered, and the design must ensure that no individual is at a disadvantage. Recent lapses include a £60m shopping centre project where the designers forgot to plan soil pipes in the layout for the accessible toilet.

Work was almost completed when it was found the pipes hadn't been taken into account in the room length, meaning that the rooms were now shorter than the required 2.2m. It is likely that other facilities will now have to be moved, making the room non-compliant.

Another example was found during an access audit at a university, where an accessible toilet had been retrofitted with a view to provide a Changing Place. The fact that the room was nowhere near the minimum size should have been picked up, but the most significant issue was that a disabled person would have found it extremely difficult to get into the room in the first place.

The space was full of ancillary equipment that didn't need to be there and, worse, the entrance door was located in the corner of a corridor with an adjacent wall at about 45°. There was no way you could get a wheelchair in there, and it would be awkward at best for people using other mobility aids. This latter example shows that it doesn't matter how much space there is if the facilities are inadequate and the room itself is cluttered and inaccessible. Should you be in doubt, always get a professional involved, because the cost of their input will be a lot less than the price of the remedial work needed if you don't.

Ian Streets is the managing director of About Access info@aboutaccess.co.uk

Related competencies include: Design and specification, Inclusive environments

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