Independent Accessibility Verification

Disability Access Certificates (DAC’s) in Ireland – Confused ??

2011-09-01:  To say, bluntly, that there is confusion out there … at every level … would be a mild understatement !   Yes, the Disability Access Certificate (DAC) & Revised DAC Process is new … but that cannot explain what is happening … or, more precisely, what is not happening.

BUT … before jumping in at the deep end and examining the existing and operative Part M of the Irish Building Regulations … let me just mention, very briefly, two wider legal ‘niceties’ concerning Accessibility of Buildings for People with Disabilities

     1.  The Black Hole between Building Regulations and Equality Law

The definition of People with Disabilities in the existing Part M is limited.  It is inadequate.  Compare, now, that definition with the definition of Disability in Irish Equality Legislation … which is the complete opposite, being very wide in scope.  A deep chasm exists between the two.  Check each of them out for yourself !   And because few people are aware of this chasm … a better description of that large space might be a Black Hole.

However, the clear consequence of the Black Hole for building owners … and building designers alike … is that the ‘act’ of merely going through the motions with regard to compliance with Part M … and being satisfied with getting ‘the’ piece of paper, i.e. a Disability Access Certificate … will, without any shadow of a doubt, open the building owner to a complaint under Equality Law.  And when a building owner encounters this sort of problem … who will he, or she, hunt down for an explanation ??

Client Organizations beware … prevention is a far better strategy !!   Check out the Level of Accessibility Performance required to avoid complaints under Equality Legislation.

[ You should also consider the following … the Health & Safety Authority in Ireland is doing absolutely nothing to ensure that Workplaces are Accessible … a requirement contained in all of the European Union (EU) Safety at Work Directives and the Irish National Legislation implementing those Directives.  So, also cross check the Level of Accessibility Performance required to comply with Safety at Work Legislation.  Compliance with Part M is not sufficient ! ]

     2.  European Union Ratification of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

For a sizeable group of vulnerable people in every EU Member State, the sole route of access to many, if not most, of the Human and Social Rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) … which became an International Legal Instrument on 3 May 2008, and was ratified by the European Union on 23 December 2010.  That is precisely why Accessibility is such a critical component of the 2006 UN Convention !

Articles 31 & 33 of the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – together – mandate that Accessibility Implementation is taken seriously … that it is competent and effective … and, most importantly, that independent monitoring and verification is a fundamental part of the process.

Ireland has not yet ratified the UN CRPD.  And, as far as our National Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) are concerned … everything in the garden is beautiful … Ireland is doing just great and nothing much needs to be altered in our laws, administrative provisions or resourcing … to allow Ireland to ratify the Convention, and then properly implement it.  Nothing could be further from the truth !

In Order to Protect your Organization and its many interests … Your Policy and Decision Makers, in Ireland, should study the implications flowing directly from EU Ratification of the UN CRPD … and then, the various Articles of the UN Convention should be examined and properly implemented … insofar as those Articles are relevant to you and your organization’s activities.  See my earlier post, dated 5 February 2011.

To date … the quality of Accessibility Implementation in Irish Buildings has been dreadful !!   For important reasons … which all parties involved should fully understand … this situation is longer acceptable.

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Colour photograph showing the front entrances to dwelling units in a New Inner City Housing Scheme in Dublin ... User Unfriendly ... Inaccessible for Many Vulnerable People in Our Society ... Dreadful Accessibility Implementation ! Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2003-09-13. Click to enlarge.

Colour photograph showing the front entrances to dwelling units in a New Inner City Housing Scheme in Dublin ... User Unfriendly ... Inaccessible for Many Vulnerable People in Our Society ... Dreadful Accessibility Implementation ! Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2003-09-13. Click to enlarge.

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Disability Access Certificates (DAC’s) & Part M

The submission of sufficient, quality information, i.e. detailed design documentation, at Disability Access Certificate (DAC) Application Stage typically signals the following to an experienced technical controller …

  • The intent of the Applicant, and the Agent(s) acting on his/her/their behalf, with regard to properly and satisfactorily complying with the relevant building legislation, i.e. Part M: ‘Access for People with Disabilities’ of the Second Schedule to the Irish Building Regulations ;  and
  • In the absence of an inspection by the Building Control Authority (BCA) during actual construction … whether or not it is likely that the completed works will match the DAC certified design documentation with regard to Accessibility Performance.

From the beginning, it is necessary to distinguish between Access and Accessibility.

To be written in stone when International Standard ISO 21542 is soon published … the components of Building Accessibility comprise …

  • Approach to the building ;
  • Entry ;
  • Use of the building, its services and facilities ;
  • Egress from the building (during normal conditions) ;
  • Removal from the vicinity of the building (during normal conditions) ;

and

  • Evacuation from the building (during, for example, a fire emergency) ;
  • Safe Movement to a ‘place of safety’ (during, for example, a fire emergency), which is remote from the building.

This is also a useful guideline with regard to segregating those aspects of Accessibility Design which relate to Part M: ‘Access for People with Disabilities’ of the Second Schedule to the Irish Building Regulations, and which should be considered in any application for a Disability Access Certificate (DAC) … and those, after ‘and‘ … which relate to Part B: ‘Fire Safety’, and which should be considered in every application for a Fire Safety Certificate (FSC).

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The 2000 Building Regulations (Amendment) Regulations … Statutory Instrument No. 179 of 2000 … elaborate the relevant Irish Building Legislation concerning building access, i.e. Part M: ‘Access for People with Disabilities’ of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations …

Access and Use

M1     Adequate provision shall be made to enable people with disabilities to safely and independently access and use a building.

Sanitary Conveniences

M2     If sanitary conveniences are provided in a building, adequate provision shall be made for people with disabilities.

Audience or Spectator Facilities

M3     If a building contains fixed seating for audience or spectators, adequate provision shall be made for people with disabilities.

Definition for This Part

M4     In this Part, ‘people with disabilities’ means people who have an impairment of hearing or sight or an impairment which limits their ability to walk, or which restricts them to a wheelchair.

Application of This Part

M5     Part M does not apply to works in connection with extensions to and the material alterations of existing dwellings, provided that such works do not create a new dwelling.”

My Note 1:  In order to safely and independently use a building … it is also necessary, under normal conditions, to use the egress routes of a building.

My Note 2:  The limited definition of ‘people with disabilities’ in Requirement M4 does not include, for example, a person without arms … or those people with a mental, cognitive or psychological impairment.

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Technical Guidance Document M (2000, re-printed in 2005) provides guidance in relation to Part M: ‘Access for People with Disabilities’ of the Second Schedule to the Irish Building Regulations.  TGD M was issued by the Department of the Environment, under Article 7 of the 1997 Building Regulations … Statutory Instrument No. 497 of 1997 … which states …

” 7.     (1)  The Minister may publish, or arrange to have published on his behalf, documents to be known as ‘technical guidance documents’ for the purpose of providing guidance with respect to compliance with the requirements of any of the provisions of the Second Schedule.

          (2)  Subject to the provisions of sub-article (3), where works or a building to which these Regulations apply is or are designed and constructed in accordance with any guidance contained in a technical guidance document, this shall, prima facie, indicate compliance with the relevant requirements of these Regulations.

          (3)  The provisions of any guidance contained in a technical guidance document published under sub-article (1) concerning the use of a particular material, method of construction or specification, shall not be construed as prohibiting compliance with a requirement of these Regulations by the use of any other suitable material, method of construction or specification.”

My Note 3:  Since the introduction of national legal building legislation in the early 1990’s, the Irish Building Regulations have a Functional Format, as required by European Union (EU) Law.  In other words, satisfactory compliance with short functional statements is mandated by law … and provided the requirements of those short statements are properly shown to be complied with, it is entirely optional as to which materials, methods of construction, standards and other specifications (including technical specifications) are used.  In this way, the free movement of products and services within the EU is facilitated and encouraged while, at the same time, technical barriers to trade are avoided.

My Note 4:  For the convenience of readers, the short functional statements mandated by law are reproduced, in a shaded box, at the beginning of each of the Technical Guidance Documents.  The Guidance Texts in each Technical Guidance Document, however, are not Prescriptive Regulations.  These texts are merely an indicator of what is likely to be suitable for the purposes of compliance with the Regulations … they are, prima facie (i.e. on ‘first appearance’ only), an indication of compliance ;  they are not ‘deemed-to-satisfy’ the Requirements of Part M.

My Note 5:  Where gaps are identified in the guidance texts of Technical Guidance Document M … and in the absence of an Irish National Standard on Building Access or Accessibility … a suggested hierarchy of approach should be to source an appropriate European Standard (EN) or, if such a standard does not yet exist, then an appropriate International Standard (ISO), or then a National Standard of any country which is a contracting party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA) which provides in use an appropriate level of Access/Accessibility Performance (refer to Part D of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations).  In the unlikely absence of any of the above, an appropriate Design Guidance Document – national or otherwise – should be referenced which provides in use an appropriate level of Access/Accessibility Performance.

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Our Organization – Sustainable Design International – provides an independent (and confidential) Accessibility Monitoring and Verification Service.

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Barcelona Accessibility Conference – European Issues ?

2009-03-24:  Permit me, first of all, to vigorously reclaim the word ‘accessibility’ back from the Transport Sector.  This important conference in Barcelona was not about transport networks or distances from the nearest transportation node … but about Accessibility of the Human Environment for People with Activity Limitations (2001 WHO ICF), i.e. Accessibility-for-All.

 

A 2-Day Conference organized by EuCAN – the European Concept for Accessibility Network co-ordinated from Luxembourg – it was held in the TRYP APOLO Hotel (Av. Paral-lel, 57-59), on the 19-20th March 2009 … an impressive start-up event for the next EuCAN Project … a publication elaborating the business opportunities being created by Design-for-All for manufacturers and service providers across Europe.

 

I was very pleased to make a presentation on the exciting business potential of Accessible Fire Engineering … a subset of Sustainable Fire Engineering …

 

 

Colour image showing the Title Page (only) of CJ Walsh's Presentation: 'Accessible Fire Engineering', at the recent 2-Day EuCAN Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Held on 19-20th March, 2009.

Colour image showing the Title Page (only) of CJ Walsh’s Presentation: ‘Accessible Fire Engineering’, at the recent 2-Day EuCAN Conference in Barcelona, Spain. Held on 19-20th March, 2009. Click to enlarge.

 

There were, however, some developments at the conference which should be brought to wider public attention for consideration and discussion … here in Ireland, but also in other European countries …

 

 

Colour photograph showing the West/'Passion' Elevation of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

Colour photograph showing the West/’Passion’ Elevation of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

 

1.  News was announced at the conference that the Proposed International Accessibility-for-All Standard (at present ISO CD 21542.3) has been overwhelmingly supported (mid-March 2009) for progress to the Draft International Standard (DIS) stage in its development.  If everything goes well, we should see this International Standard being published sometime during the first half of 2010. 

The ISO Accessibility-for-All Standard, which will be an essential implementation tool for Articles 9 & 11 of the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in relation to Buildings, is particularly important for 2 Reasons:

 

         ‘Fire Safety’ Texts are now included in the Main Body of the Standard ;

 

         ‘Fire Evacuation’ is fully integrated into the definition and meaning of ‘Accessibility’.

 

 

Colour photograph showing the Interior of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Current state of progress with the Nave. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

Colour photograph showing the Interior of the Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. Current state of progress with the Nave. An architectural wonder designed by Catalan Architect, Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (1852-1926), and still under construction. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

 

 

2.  A conversation during the conference morning coffee break, on Friday 20th March, with Bojana Rudić and Miodrag Počuč of the Centar Živeti Uspravno in Serbia, has finally convinced me that all of the various Accessibility Design Philosophies

 

         design-for-all (some attempts have been made to develop 6 Principles for this rather vague philosophy) … used by EU Institutions, and more widely throughout Europe in reaction to universal design ;

         universal design (with its 7 Principles/Commandments) … preached from the USA … but in Japan, for example, a more practical application can be seen.  Strangest of all is the relatively recent establishment in Ireland of the Centre for Universal Design, within the lumbering qwango that is the National Disability Authority (NDA) ;

         inclusive design (with its 5 Principles) … originating from Great Britain ;

         barrier-free design (a philosophy long out of date) … still widely referred to in Germany and other parts of Central Europe ;

         facilitation design (a newer philosophy based on 2 WHO ICF Terms: ‘Facilitator’ and ‘Environmental Factors’ and intended to update barrier-free design) … not yet well known ;

 

… are not only causing enormous confusion about accessibility among the ‘un-initiated’ and architectural students, to take just two examples … but are diverting scarce resources away from the process of ‘real’ accessibility implementation.

 

In some cases, devotion to these philosophies is so consuming that I have experienced, first-hand, a general tendency to discourage any talk about rights … with some prominent members of the International Accessibility Community (who shall remain nameless !) not even bothering to read the actual text of the 2006 UN Disability Rights Convention !

 

 

Colour photograph showing a General View, from within, of the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion - a Master Statement of Modern Architecture - designed by German Architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). De-constructed in early 1930 after the Barcelona International Exposition, it was constructed again in 1986. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

Colour photograph showing a General View, from within, of the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion – a Master Statement of Modern Architecture – designed by German Architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). De-constructed in early 1930 after the Barcelona International Exposition, it was constructed again in 1986. Click to enlarge. Photograph taken by CJ Walsh. 2009-03-20.

   

3.  Concerning the development of a European Accessibility Business Strategy

 

         2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

 

Yes … Accessibility-for-All is about much more than making life and living easier for people with disabilities.  Children, frail older people (not all older people !), women in the later stages of pregnancy, people who have a health condition, etc., all now need to be included in a more Person-Centred Approach to the design and sustainable transformation of our Human Environment.  This is absolutely essential.

 

But … the 2006 UN Convention must be used as a Product & Service Checklist which covers the basic, i.e. minimum, responsible needs of people with disabilities … a sizeable social group in all of our societies.  Failure to complete this simple task is a fundamental strategic error !

 

The 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is also their sole route of access to the human and social rights set down in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

 

         Integration of Accessibility-for-All Performance

 

Building Accessibility, to take a specific example, is now more complex … and includes …

 

         Approach to the building from the site boundary ;

         Entry through principal entrance(s) ;

         Health, Safety, Convenience & Comfort In Use, including thermal and acoustic comfort, good indoor air quality, protection from fire, etc ;

         Egress under normal conditions ;

         Evacuation in the Event of a Fire, or other emergency ;

         Removal from the vicinity of the building back to the site boundary ;

 

and …

 

         Each stage of a Work Process, at every level, in places of work ;

         Use of Electronic, Information & Communication Technologies (EICT’s) – at minimum, those permanently fixed in/to the building ;

 

and …

 

         Management, Services & Attitudes of People in the organization using the building ;

         Recruitment, Employment, Promotion & Training Practices within the same organization.

 

 

Performance in all of these different, and up until now separate, components must be brought together and properly integrated.

 

 

         Accessibility-related Products

 

In Ireland, we suffer from an over-supply of British manufactured accessibility-related products which are badly-designed and inadequately tested … or not tested at all.  Inability to show compliance with Part D of the Irish Building Regulations is a big issue … that is, if those manufacturers even realize that we have our own separate building legislation over here.

 

By the way, failure to be able to show compliance with Regulation 7 of the Building Regulations for England & Wales is an issue across the water as well !

 

The situation isn’t much better in the rest of Europe.  Yes … the quality of design is much, much better, but there is still enormous confusion about CE Marking.

 

Accessibility-related Products are still, and always have been, industrial products which are being placed on the Single European Market.  Normal rules apply !

 

 

         Accessibility-related Services

 

Hopefully, we will soon see the demise of the Access Consultant … a plentiful species, particularly in Great Britain … an individual who only deals with ‘approach to’, ‘entry’ and ‘use’ of a building or facility … and nothing about ‘fire evacuation’.  Their days are slowly numbered !

 

The rest of us, however, need to familiarize ourselves with necessary new services …

 

         Accessibility Impact Assessment ;

         Accessibility Performance Indicators ;

         Accessibility Benchmarking, Target Setting and Progress Evaluation ;

         Independent Accessibility Verification ;

         Etc.

 

Accessibility-related Services must be dragged out of prehistoric caves … screaming, if necessary.  Services must become much more professional !

 

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