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Attitude to access

26 March 2015


Two weeks ago, BIFM chief executive Gareth Tancred joined minister for disabled people Mark Harper at the House of Commons to announce the first winners in the Accessible Britain Challenge awards, a scheme set up by the Department of Work and Pensions last September.


Its aim is “for communities to become more inclusive and accessible by engaging and working with disabled people to remove barriers that get in the way of them being full and active contributors in their community”.


The BIFM sponsored the scheme, an initiative following on from the addition of disability access into the institute’s FM Professional Standards framework last year.


The links are obvious, of course – if facilities management is about anything, it’s about how the working environment is maximised for all those who need to access and use it.


The Accessible Britain Challenge awards comprised four categories. Pretty much all of the finalists in each category - including ‘safer neighbourhoods’ and ‘inclusive social activities’ - had something to say in their submissions that could be of some value to FMs in search of fresh thinking. ‘Innovative use of buildings, spaces and places’ might seem the obvious category for those seeking an immediate FM angle, and indeed there were several inspiring stories here. (The category winner, the YMCA Community Gym in Peterborough, is a great example of local coordination for the greater good.) However, the story that most piqued my interest, the one that most immediately brought to mind one of FM’s many hardy intractibles, came instead from the ‘improved mobility’ category.


Established by Cheshire West and Chester Council two years ago, the Corporate Disability Access Forum seeks to ensure that people from organisations representing local disabled people are brought in to address accessibility issues for any planned new buildings and spaces suggested within the council’s area.


Sounds spookily familiar, doesn’t it? That wonderful ideal in which FMs have blueprint-level access to architects and developers just at the point when their involvement is of most value to the design and commissioning process.


I spoke to Cheshire West and Chester councillor Charles Fifield, and he wondered whether we define disability broadly enough - and he’s spot-on. The demographic time bomb that is already seeing four generations operating in one workplace guarantees an increase in access-impaired workers over the years ahead.


Fifield spoke about one particular building, only five years old, which sports perfectly adequate disability access – but can only be got to from a disabled car parking space situated some 100 yards around the corner…


This subject is as much about attitude as access; it’ll be interesting to see if the BIFM’s involvement bears further fruit. As a bold initiative, it certainly deserves to.


Martin Read is managing editor at FM World