Garden Access for the Disabled

Jonathan Taylor

 

Local authorities are increasingly concerned that many owners of historic buildings are unaware of their responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (the DDA) which is due to come into full effect in 2004 and applies equally in England, Scotland and Wales. Owners who do not respond in time may be liable to prosecution.

The number of businesses affected by this legislation is staggering. Every business employing more than 15 people must comply, as must schools and other educational establishments, all shops, banks, restaurants and other premises offering goods and services to the public, local and national government, and others. As a result, the Government delayed full implementation of the Act by nine years until 2004, by which time any physical alteration required to the fabric of premises must be made: Where... (b) any physical feature of premises occupied by the organisation, place the disabled person concerned at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled, it is the duty of the organisation to take such steps as it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case for it to have to take in order to prevent the arrangements or feature having that effect. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, Section 15 (1).

Rather than stipulating definite requirements, the Act requires only that 'reasonable provision' should be made. The question of what is reasonable may depend on whether the alteration can be achieved in practice and at what cost, and the degree of benefit to disabled people. Financial considerations may be relevant where a small organisation is faced with prohibitively expensive work, or where there will be little practical benefit. Aesthetic and historical considerations may be relevant where a building or structure is of special architectural or historical interest. The degree to which these issues are relevant will ultimately be determined in the courts, although the promised new Code of Practice would be helpful.

ACCESS TO HISTORIC GARDENS

All owners of historic gardens which are open to the public are affected both as 'suppliers' of 'goods, facilities and services', and often as employers. The most commonly found barriers in historic gardens are flights of steps which may be awkward for those who have difficulty walking and for those with poor eyesight For wheelchair users even one step may present an insurmountable barrier. Other hazards include ha-has which may not be visible to everyone, and gradients greater than i in 12 -the gradient specified in Part M of the Building Regulations - may be hazardous to wheelchair users. Deep gravel and soft lawn may present an obstacle to wheelchairs, and those who have difficulty walking may find cobbles and setts impassable.

Where features of an historic garden are protected as a scheduled monument or as part of a listed building (this may include features that are protected as a result of being within the 'curtilage' of a listed building), the legislation which protects them takes precedence over the DDA. This is not to say that they cannot be altered, but simply that the relevant consent must be gained first. The fact that a building is listed or scheduled is not in itself a justification for retaining a problem feature without modification: English Heritage in particular has embraced the issues of accessibility in the historic environment and has adopted a much more flexible attitude to this type of alteration, encouraging sympathetic solutions. A degree of alteration may well be permissible for DDA requirements that would not be considered acceptable for other purposes, so it is important to investigate all possible solutions with an open mind.

Access issues include access to information as well as premises. For those with sight problems, the legibility of signage is an important consideration: and for those with little or no vision, audio tours are invaluable. Where physical access problems are insurmountable consider videos and multi-media presentations as an alternative.

Advice is available from the national statutory authorities (English Heritage, Historic Scotland, Cadw and the Environment and Heritage Service), specialist access consultants and from local access groups which represent disabled people.

 


Recommended Reading

  • The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 Code of Practice on the Rights of Access to Goods, Facilities, Services and Premises (issued under section 53A(i) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995), The Disability Rights Commission, London, 2002
  • Easy Access to Historic Properties, English Heritage, 1995
  • Lisa Foster, Access to the Historic Environment, Donhead Publishing, Shaftesbury, 1997
 

This article is reproduced from Historic Gardens, 2002

Author

JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.

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