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What makes an effective Access Consultant?

 

What makes an effective Access Consultant?

By Ms. Joe Manton Director IATA and AAA

An Access Consultant needs to be a multi disciplinarian… or in the words of a character in Frasier – an Expertition!!!!!!

When I started work as an Access Consultant more than 20 years ago, to my amazement, it was usually only about compliance! The problem was, and still is, that we are still being asked to respond to ‘Does it comply?’ The assumption is that compliancy is what it is all about when it come to Access Consulting and access advice.

But what is compliance?’ Does it mean if we take a compliance based approach all buildings and facilities will be accessible? Does it mean we have met all of our obligations to provide equitable, dignified access? Or that our buildings and facilities can optimize their usage potential and deliver the required cost effective outcomes by ensuring everyone can access and effectively use buildings and facilities?

In order for Access Consultants to be effective, they need to understand how to apply three important considerations in their work.

  • Human Rights
  • Compliance
  • Functionality and Use

Human Rights

An understanding of human rights, particularly as they relate to people with disabilities, is critical for an access consultant to effectively undertake their role. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and related legislation such as State based anti discrimination legislation and the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act, are fundamental in forming the basis from which decisions regarding access must often be made. Many of the principles of human rights are not written into Standards and must be interpreted in terms of the intent of the legislation in which they are enshrined. This can be a complex and difficult task, but critical if effective access advice is to be given to a client who wants to provide appropriate access, or equally who may be trying to avoid doing so, often due to perceived increased costs.

Compliance

One of the first questions an access consultant should ask a client when they request an access audit or a compliance report is - compliance with what? Often, people think that there is one magical ‘compliance’ document that incorporates a checklist of all the things that need to be done to comply with all of the requirements for access. Wrong!! This does not exist and probably never will.

Compliance could mean compliance with the Building Code of Australia, but that won’t tell us all we must do to provide appropriate access to the intent of the DDA throughout the built environment. Compliance could mean compliance with the Disability Access to Premises – Buildings Standards, but that will only give us compliance with some issues in some buildings i.e. new buildings and those undergoing upgrade that require a building approval.

Compliance in the external environment could mean what State bodies and other organisations use as ‘Guidelines for Access’.

Compliance with Australian Standards for Access and Mobility could mean compliance with those Standards that are mandatory – again only relating to some buildings – or compliance with those Standards that are enhanced, but not mandatory – or compliance with those Standards that are suggestions, or those Standards that are out of date!

An effective access consultant will discuss in detail with their client what level of compliance is being sought, for what purpose and with what expected outcome.

Functionality and Use

The third key area that must be understood and considered by access consultants is functionality and use. An effective access consultant needs to understand how people use buildings, facilities and outdoor spaces. They need to be aware of the potential barriers that can be created in the built environment for people with a range of disabilities and other access challenges by inappropriate design, building works and retrofitting, as well as limitations to installation of appropriate communication and wayfinding supports in the environment.

Understanding why a door handle is preferable to a door knob, why a designated accessible toilet needs a minimum size pan circulation space; the many ways a person may need to transfer to use a toilet, or how a person with a cochlear implant might actually use a hearing augmentation system; or why a child might only be able to use a slide in playground that can accommodate two people at a time, are all important considerations when providing access advice.

Effective access consultants will have the answers to these questions and be able to use this knowledge to provide useful and practical information to clients when addressing access issues in the built environment. If clients understand the ‘whys’ it’s often a lot easier to get them on board to build access into initial designs or undertake upgrades where necessary.

So next time you engage an access consultant ask these questions: Are you qualified? Are you accredited? How do you consider human rights, compliance, and functionality and use into your reports?

Can they give you an effective answer?

The Institute of Access Training Australia, (IATA) delivers the only qualification in Australia in relation to access consulting. Contact us for further details at info@accessinstitute.com.au 

 

 

 

 

 

AAA - Access Audits Australia

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