Toilet closures, erosion of high st services & a dearth of access specialists

Published: 3 Jun 2021

Ron Koorm has been consulting for the Centre for Accessible Environments (CAE) for almost eight years, providing a qualityRon Koorm control checking service on access reports and audits amongst other things.

Below, he gives his opinion on everything from the definition of inclusive design and accessibility to the biggest issues facing disabled people during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and in the next 10 years.

How do you come to be working at CAE and how long have you worked with them?

I worked with CAE’s past Director Jean Hewitt at Vectra when she was a lead access specialist. I was a project manager and Jean got me interested in access, so I did a residential Access and Inclusion course at Reading University. Later, I set up my own access practice, which I retired from a few years ago.

Why did you decide to specialise in access?

I was frustrated that so many buildings and sites were not generally accessible. My background is chartered building surveying, and that complements access and inclusive design very well.

What do you consult on for CAE?

As well as quality control checking access reports and audits, I also provide support on updating technical manuals, and have worked on the occupational therapist’s guide on construction, plus other CAE publications.

Currently I’m looking at Changing Places facilities guidance. I used to provide a bit of Continuing Professional Development training on access and contractual issues. If you offer an access service, you need to be up to speed on the contractual side of things.

How do you define inclusive design and accessibility?

Different people have different views, and much depends on your experiences, career and background.  For me, Inclusive Design is about making a level playing field for access to buildings, sites, services, education, leisure, indeed almost everything. We have made progress, but we  still have a long way to go.

What are some of the biggest access issues you feel disabled and older people face on a day to day basis, today?

I think many organisations, look at access much as a tick-box exercise. It isn’t. The more I learn about access and inclusion the more I realise how little I really know about the subject. Inclusion and inclusive design are a complex and broad area. My biggest concern, are the mass closures of bank branches, post offices, and similar high street services. I assisted CAE in making a submission on the future of public toilets in the UK recently. Toilet closures are a big problem and it’s getting worse.

I used to be involved in fire enforcement on housing many years ago and fire safety for disabled people living in flats is also an area of concern.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle facing disabled & older people in the built environment in the next 5-10 years?

One of the biggest hurdles will be the lack of accessible toilet facilities on the high street and in stations.

I’m also concerned that there will be far fewer access specialists to provide access audits as access is not considered to be as high profile now as when the Disability Discrimination Act first came in, and there was plenty of funding around. This could mean a resources gap in our area of expertise. We need younger people coming into the access profession that’s why the CAE’s Pathways Academy is so important. We need new breeding ground like this to ensure our future supply of access specialists.

If you could make one law today regarding inclusive design and accessibility what would it be?

To provide proper legal enforcement of the Equality Act on disability discrimination via enforcement officers, similar to Environmental Health Inspectors who inspect food premises, and close them down if they are really poor. We would need these enforcement officers to educate service-providers on access, and supply evidence for possible prosecution in serious cases.

It’s completely unacceptable that an aggrieved disabled person should have to act, or involve the Equality and Human Rights Commission on their behalf, to sort out an access issue at a restaurant, shop, or pub.

Wearing your inclusive design/access consultant hat, what one thing has stood out for you the most during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The almost total reliance by most people on online services. It’s a great excuse for banks and others to close physical branches and make lots of staff redundant. It means many disabled and older people won’t have face-to-face communication as much as in the past. There are going to be a lot of lonely people out there, and that may impact on mental health.

The plus side is that many people can work from home and reduce commuting to the office. Do we need to start look at auditing home office environments, instead of just conventional workplace offices? Now there’s a thought!

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Read Ron’s article on the accessibility and inclusiveness of doors: Making an entrance with barrier free doors.