A Women and Equalities Parliamentary committee inquiry is looking at the extent to which accessibility is taken into account in the design of buildings. This prompted the question – is FM doing enough? We asked our Think Tank audience a series of questions about the topic. Here’s what our respondents told us
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13 October 2016 | FM World team
IT’S TIME FOR FACILITIES MANAGEMENT TO TAKE THE LEAD
While few would argue that buildings should be difficult to use, ‘accessibility’ is still too often a narrow after-thought limited to few ramps and disabled toilets as per building regulations.
Increasingly, property directors are now asking: How can we create the high performance built environments which consistently enhance employee productivity, employee engagement and the experience of a diverse customer base? What does best practice in achieving this look like?
Facilities managers are already tasked with making buildings work cost effectively for everybody, from initial design through to adaptation and ongoing management. The opportunity now is for senior professionals in FM to challenge outdated assumptions about accessibility and take a leadership role in redefining the role of FM in delivering high performance buildings.
To do this they will need to define a shared strategic vision with their corporate clients and stakeholders and answer questions like: Why should we be accessible to the more than 1 billion people with disabilities? Why should we adapt our premises so that a colleague who becomes disabled can continue to contribute? Why should we commit to working to higher standards that, because they go beyond mere compliance, will actually benefit the business?
There is no credible benchmark or policy guidance for property leaders and their FM counterparts wishing to deliver consistent high performance from their property portfolio. This is why, together with its founders, Barclays, GSK and Infosys, business disability international is setting up a global property and FM taskforce; a B2B learning network for senior property and FM leaders which seeks to articulate what ‘good’ looks like and expedite progress towards a shared vision.
Susan Scott Parker CEO and Founder business disability international
THE KEY IS TO FOCUS ON INDIVIDUAL NEEDS
From the outset, architects, designers and their clients should always try to understand the needs of the users – researching their needs and behaviours through a programme of discussion, observation and simulation. With this information, they are much better placed to create an environment which is designed around the needs of the individual.
This human-centred approach also eliminates another common issue - a too narrow approach which considers, for example, physical mobility – wheelchair access, and so on rather than a broader range of challenges such as mental health. It also encourages a much more inclusive design process which appreciates that what is good for those with particular needs usually improves the experience for everyone. Too often this is not the case at the moment.
It is fundamental that understanding users is built in at the start, rather than considered further along the process, because that will never deliver a perfect experience.
Equally, it is grasping that the key is ‘individuals’ – an approach that considers the wider population will tend to play to the lowest common denominator, rather than achieve the highest standards. This is an approach that is taken in other design sectors - product and design, for example – and there is no reason for the built environment to be any different. Of course, user needs evolve over time, and any design needs to be able to mirror those changing needs in the future.
Standards are a tremendous way of ensuring a minimum level, but rarely do they encourage the highest possible levels of excellence…in fact many would argue they have the opposite effect. There should be a system to encourage and incentivise designers and architects to achieve the best experience for users.
David Watts Managing Director CCD design and Ergonomics, Member CIEHF
CONNECT EMPLOYEES TO HIGH IMPACT DIVERSITY PROJECTS
Accessibility in our organisation is hugely important. Diversity and inclusion is a key objective for Google and ensuring our workplace is accessible is a key component of this objective. We want to ensure that any person who comes to our offices feels safe, empowered and independent. Making and keeping our offices accessible means allowing users, no matter what their ability to be at their best every day.
We created the Diversity Core programme to connect employees to high impact diversity projects across Google and in local communities. Googlers can also join one of our 20+ employee resource groups to connect with a network of people who share their values of supporting diversity. One example of this is the Disability Alliance, a group of employees who care about disability, learning differences, special needs, or neurodiversity, whether for themselves or a child, relative, or friend.
The onus being placed on building accessibility is the reason BIFM Ireland is supporting Paralympics Ireland at this year’s FM Summit in November, as we endeavour to raise the profile of facility accessibility both within a sporting context and in wider everyday settings.
There are specific building features in our offices to ensure all Googlers and visitors can get to, from and around the offices. Particular focus areas include general office workstations; conference rooms; restrooms; foyers/hallways; micro-kitchens and cafes; egress, especially in emergencies. Recently we undertook audits of our buildings to address potential accessibility deficiencies. This is a work in progress, but we are looking at ways that we can increase awareness of accessibility for all employees. We have implemented additional guidelines when designing and fitting out interior spaces and we are also investigating how we can integrate some Google technology into the workplace to further assist those with additional needs.
Fionnuala Byrne is regional facilities manager at Google