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Ensuring Acceptable Disability Access within Historic Buildings

Historic buildings and heritage properties, if listed or protected, must be maintained to strict standards. The design and aesthetic of a historic property must meet the original intent and design of the building, which can prove problematic in some cases where restoration and/or refurbishment is required. What happens however when an historic building requires updating to fit in with the strict legislation relating to disability access to a building?

Since October 2004 the law has changed in the UK in relation to disability access. There is now a legal obligation for all owners of historic buildings to ensure that all relevant and necessary alterations have been made in order to welcome disabled people in a comfortable, accessible and effective way. It has led to many historic buildings undergoing refurbishment in order to drastically alter the way in which access is granted to buildings to disabled people. This is in the form of extensions to the properties in some cases, or an alteration in how a building’s entrance, and other aspects of a building, function and flow.

With brand new entrances and alterations to different areas of an historic building there is a necessity to plan extremely carefully, taking a look at the precise detail of both legal obligations of a landlord. Not only must the needs of disabled people be a priority in terms of the safe and simple access to the building, but there must also be a strict adherence to the listed status of a heritage building. The integrity of a building structure and the design and aesthetics of the façade and decoration must also be preserved for posterity.

The alterations necessary for disabled access is not only down to providing wheelchair access. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) ensures that all disabled people are catered for in public spaces and historic buildings. This has led to alterations for wheelchair ramps and wider doorframes and entrances, as well as large print and braille for blind persons, and induction loops and sound enhancement facilities for the deaf. Access must be provided in the form of information and assistance to any disabled person visiting a listed building or a monument open to the public, as part of the 1999 Part II of the DDA. Since September 2005 this has means that all owners, tenants, churches, and employers of historic buildings, as well as Universities and other higher education institutions are responsible for the changes.

When considering the changes required, or the updating of historic buildings to either incorporate further features that aid disability access, or to upgrade existing features, it is vital that specialist architects and designers are consulted. A specialist in historic building restoration will understand how to effectively plan the implementation of disability access within the strict confines of a listed, historic building. This ensures that the integrity of the original design and aesthetic remain intact, whilst all relevant DDA regulations are enforced for the modern day. Galleries, museums and other cultural and public spaces within Listed Buildings are the type of properties where this type of work is a necessity.