Almost by definition you’d expect a modern healthcare building to stand as a shining example of best practice when it comes to accessibility. Not so, or certainly not based on my recent experience.
Mum had to visit the centre for treatment as part of her recuperation from a major operation. She’s 83 and uses two sticks to help her get around but is unlikely to present the place with any mobility and accessibility requirements that they haven’t seen before.
But what greeted us on arrival was a catalogue of flawed design and poor process. Any person with an impairment would be likely to encounter any number of difficulties if they arrived there alone.
The entrance doors are powered, which is helpful, but they close too quickly and therefore bring complications for people with restricted mobility who can only pass through them slowly. An auto-stop function would ease any concerns, but they don’t have one.
The reception desk is at a height which makes it impossible for a wheelchair user to see if a member of staff is sitting behind it. The lowered section, which presumably was specifically designed and incorporated to prevent this issue, is tucked away around the corner and out of sight. It’s a two-way problem – any staff member sitting at the desk would be unlikely to see a wheelchair-user arriving at the building and may only be alerted to their presence by the opening and closing of the entrance doors.
The waiting area is in another room and there are no chairs in the immediate vicinity of the reception desk, so a visitor who is unsteady on their feet and needs to rest or take stock on arriving at the building is unable to do so comfortably.
The doors leading to the waiting room are double-leaf but too narrow for easy use by wheelchair-users, who are likely to struggle to hold both leaves open whilst at the same time moving their chair through the door.
Given the difficulties created by the design it is imperative that the operators put in place some simple and efficient procedures to ensure people who have a permanent or temporary disability are not placed at a disadvantage. This doesn’t really happen either.
The first thing the staff did was give us a questionnaire to complete. They handed it to us as soon as we walked into the building, and there was no direction to a waiting room or to any seats until we asked.
The process of welcoming visitors needs to be given rather more thought, and that comes down to management. Poor policy and procedure can make accessible premises inaccessible, and in making adjustments it is important to remember that a wheelchair is not the only sign that someone has a disability. There are many hidden impairments which must be considered. The staff here were lovely, but they need a better procedure for processing patients, and that should begin with the initial design being checked for accessibility, and the entire process being walked through.
It’s now a bit late in the day to alter some of the physical aspects, but there may be a period of time after completion during which these issues can be dealt with. The problems with the doors should be relatively easy to fix.
The current failings exist because they were not picked up during the early stages of planning and constructing the centre. Someone has come up with this design, someone else has constructed the building it and the whole project has been signed off by Building Control and by the client.
This company’s business is about healthcare and operations, not buildings. But many of the bigger companies have their own property services team who should know about these things, and that makes you question what the brief was to the contractors and who signed it off.
The smaller firms who don’t have their own property professionals may be more reliant on the input of professional designers but they still have a responsibility. All they have to do is look at their patients, and the reason for their visits, to recognise that some of them find it more difficult than others to move around a building.