In these enlightened non-discriminatory days, it is essential, as well as being a legal requirement, that a commercial workplace is designed with accessibility for employees that are wheelchair users.
New regulations in the Disability Discrimination Act require that any commercial building, whether a new build or an old building that is undergoing renovation, must make provision for access by disabled individuals.
Any modern office should be designed to be universally suitable for all the employees, rather than just the able bodied staff. An open plan office, as well as having a modern look and feel, is the best layout for all members of staff. Fewer doors and walls make it easier for wheelchair uses to access all of the office’s common areas, while the lack of physical barriers makes for a more inclusive and sociable environment for all. If an open plan office is not possible due to structural problems, doors and corridors must be sufficiently wide to allow a wheelchair to pass through and along unobstructed.
Suitable office designs
When designing an office it is necessary to consider the exterior of the workplace. Disabled drivers should be able to park in designated, marked parking spaces as close to the building as possible. If the entrance to the office is raised, then a ramp with an incline ratio of no more than 1:20, together with a handrail, should be installed to accompany the steps. Inside the building, there should be a lift wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, to work alongside the stairs.
Main entrance and internal room doors need to be at least 36 inches wide to allow a wheelchair to pass through. Doors should also be hung so that they swing in rather than out, as wheelchair users may find it difficult to hold a door open and go through it at the same time. Automatic doors are a good alternative.
It will also be necessary to install either a dedicated disabled toilet facility or a dedicated cubicle within the existing toilet area. At least one sink should be installed low enough for the wheelchair user to reach easily. The same goes for the kitchen area.
Some wheelchair users may prefer to use standard office chairs to sit on while they are working. Such office chairs should be of a suitably high quality so that they are able to bear the weight of a person moving into one from a wheelchair, and preferably they should be height adjustable. There should also be a designated area where the vacated wheelchair can be safely stored when not in use.
Other users may prefer to remain in their wheelchair for the working day. If so, desks will need to stand or be raised a little higher to accommodate a wheelchair sliding in beneath them. The armrests of the wheelchair must be taken into consideration when choosing a suitable height of desk and for this reason an adjustable height workstation is a good all-round solution.
Regarding office storage, it will probably be necessary to utilise low access storage cupboards and filing cabinets, or at the very least, place frequently used stationery items and files on the lower levels of the unit. Technology, such as printers and copiers, should also be placed at a reachable height for the wheelchair user.
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