Practical tips for making your business more accessible
Making your premises more accessible will open them up to a wider range of customers. In addition, the Equality Act states that businesses should make ‘reasonable adjustments' in advance to avoid a disadvantage caused by policies, physical features and the lack of assistive aids. But what steps can be taken to improve access to your premises? Below are a few practical suggestions:
If you have a website, make sure this is accessible and easy to use. The Web Accessibility Initiative and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have produced guidance which can help with this - see Further information, below. It is really helpful to provide a webpage with information about access to your premises.
This should include areas such as:
•· available parking
•· accessible toilet provision
•· lift capacity
•· auxiliary aids, such as information in different formats or induction loops, available
By providing information in advance on issues such as limited space, steep ramps and WC facilities, customers can better plan and prepare for their visit.
Entering the premises
Steps(s) to your entrances
Steps are a common barrier to access. Bearing in mind that the duty is to make ‘reasonable adjustments', consider all the possibilities and decide which is the most realistic action to take. This might include:
- Raising the approach route level to the entrance
- Installing a permanent ramp, preferably in addition to the steps as some people find steps easier
- Moving the entrance so that it is more accessible from street level
- Using an alternative entrance with level access - this should provide a positive experience, be clearly signed and be accessed from a route which is free from obstruction
It is important to seek technical advice when considering structural alterations.
Any steps should have highlighted, contrasting edges. External steps should have corduroy paving at the top and bottom to indicate where they begin and end.
Where it is not possible to provide permanent step-free access, a temporary ramp could be considered. Bear in mind that these need to be stored carefully out of the way when not in use, and that they can sometimes be difficult to handle. Use commercial suppliers and check that they are safe and secure, with a non-slip surface.
Handrails at changes in levels, ramps or stairs, even for one step, can provide safer and easier access.
Entrance doors should be wide enough to account for a high volume of traffic, and to allow large pushchairs, wheelchair users and people with lots of shopping to enter easily. Technical advice should always be sought if you are planning to widen or adjust a doorway. There are some simple and quick improvements that can be made easily at minimal cost:
- Make sure doors are easy to open: door-opening pressure can be easily adjusted so that it opens without needing too much force
- The door handle should be at a height at which it can be reached by people of different heights and wheelchair users, and should contrast visually against the door
- Consider the type of door handle: a d-shape handle can be easier for many people to grip
- Entrance mats should be flush or level with the threshold - avoid coir or bristle matting which can cause problems for wheelchair users
- Glazed doors should have safety markings
- Good maintenance is important: check that door closers don't mean that the door is heavier to open, that the finishes of the door and its fittings are maintained to ensure good visual contrast and that door handles are easy to use
In the premises
Good signage is important. This should:
•· Be simple, clear and a good size
•· Be located so that it is visible even if the premises are crowded
•· Use title case, using upper and lower case; for example ‘Pay Here'
•· Contrast visually with its background
•· Be supported with basic pictures or symbols
•· Not be located behind glass or have a shiny or reflective surface
Good lighting should be provided; this allows for lip reading and makes it easier for people to read signs and labels. Lighting should:
- Highlight hazards but avoid pools of bright light and shadow
- Be adjusted in areas of reflective materials such as stainless steel, ceramic tiles and mirrors to reduce glare and reflected light
Counters and service desks
- If a service call bell is provided, this should be accessible and easily located
- Providing a lowered section of counter and higher section will allow wheelchair users and people of different heights to use the counter, for example to fill out forms and make payments
- Providing knee space underneath the counter and shelf will allow wheelchair users to approach the desk more easily
- Clip boards can be useful, especially in the absence of a lower-level counter
- An induction loop should be provided where possible
- The lighting should be at a good level for reading, writing and lip-reading
- If there is a glazed screen, this should be kept free of notices and obstructions
- Circulation space and paths should be kept clear of clutter, furniture and fittings
- Fit handrails where there are one or more steps and handrails. Make sure these contrast visually against the wall
- There should be clear markings on the edge of steps and hazards
- The floor surface should be non-slip
- Check for trip hazards, for example cables and worn edges
- Floors, walls, ceilings and fittings should contrast visually against each other
Shelves and display racks
Plan the layout carefully: are there freestanding information racks or shelves which are by the door obstructing access or busy areas?
Check that shelves and racks are at an accessible height for a range of people, including wheelchair users and ambulant customers
Arrange products so that the same item can be taken from different heights of shelf
Labels and information should be clear and easy to read. 24-point character size is recommended for shelf labels. Menus and leaflets could have 14-point or larger-size print with symbols. RNIB provides clear print guidance - see Further information, below
Information leaflets could be available in alternative formats, such as large print and Easy Read for people with learning disabilities. Mencap's Make it Clear guide is free to download from a link in Further information, below
Staff should be trained to provide unobtrusive assistance, such as describing and explaining products and services to customers or helping to reach or access items
Some small shops and businesses may not be able to provide any customer toilets. Where customer toilets are provided, service providers should consider how accessible they are, how easy they are to get to and use.
Existing WCs can be modified to meet wheelchair-accessible standards or improved for different users. Seek professional advice for options to provide accessible facilities. These might include:
•· Modifying an existing WC to ensure it is of adequate size and layout
•· Combining two or more standard WC compartments
•· Moving WC facilities to accessible location
Some disabled people, for example people with profound and multiple learning disabilities, need one or two assistants. Changing Places toilets provide the space for assistance, an adult changing bench and hoist facilities. Organisations with larger buildings open to the public might want to consider providing a Changing Places toilet. More details are available in Further information.
Easy, practical adjustments to WCs
Ensure that accessories such as soap and paper towel dispensers are located so they can be reached by a range of people. Coat hooks can easily be provided at two heights
- Fit grabrails for people with limited movement or balance
- Improve the visual contrast and visibility of fittings. All-white fit-outs make it difficult for people with visual impairments to identify fittings
- Provide non-slip, non-shiny and well-maintained flooring
- Change stiff cross head taps to easier to use lever-operated mixer taps or automatic taps which can be used with a closed fist
- Change doors to outward opening, as long as this does not obstruct escape routes, to provide more space inside the cubicle and allow it to be opened even if there are obstacles inside
- Provide clear signage with easy-to-recognise symbols
- Maintain emergency alarms within WCs: check that the cord can be reached from floor level, test the cords and check staff training on procedures
- Fit easy to use and light action locks on doors for people with limited dexterity
Leaving the premises and emergency egress
Clear signage, easy-to-open doors with accessible handles and clear, clutter-free routes are essential for people to find their way out. Good management procedures, staff training and awareness are key to ensuring that everyone can leave the premises safely in the event of an emergency.
Fire assessments should be carried out and your local Fire and Rescue Authority can give further advice. The Department of Local Communities and Government has published useful guidance documents for different types of buildings - see Further information, below.
- Have clear evacuation procedures and test them regularly with drills
- Provide staff training on evacuation procedures and customer assistance
- Check exit routes: these should always be free of obstructions including storage boxes, furniture and rubbish
- Check emergency alarm systems, ensure that they are in good working order and provide both visual and audio alerts
Centre for Accessible Environments
National Register of Access Consultants
Web Accessibility Initiative
Design and build accessible websites
Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)
See it right - RNIB
Make it Clear - Mencap
Fire safety risk assessment: Means of escape for disabled people (Supplementary guide)
Department for Communities and Local Government
Building Regulations (England and Wales)
Approved Document M: Access to and use of buildings
Building Regulations (Northern Ireland)
DFP Technical Booklet R: Access to and use of buildings
Building Regulations (Scotland)
BS 8300:2009=A1:2010 Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people. Code of practice
Article written by Wai-Mei Chan, Access and Sustainability Adviser for the Centre for Accessible Environments.