Please adjust your thinking!
The way some Government legislation or new regulations are worded, you’d think they were written in a secret code!
At Thorpe Learning Environments, its part of the brief to unravel and explain how legal requirements and standards apply to the way your building or classroom is fitted out and furnished.
In taking on a new project, the area that often requires extra thought but which may to some degree have been overlooked in the planning, is how to apply the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). While we might be familiar with the name of this Act, this is one piece of legislation which is increasingly important to get to grips with.
"At the very first meeting with a potential client, school, architect or builder, we suggest that consideration is given to suitable provision for DDA requirements, and check that it’s not been underplayed," explains Bob Earl at Thorpe Learning Environments.
Equally, the cost of installing equipment for special needs is usually less at the main contract stage than going back to do a "retro-fit". So it makes economic sense as well as complying with the law.
However, some clients misunderstand whether the DDA even applies to them, and believe they’re not obliged to meet its requirements as they don’t have children or adults with disabilities are currently using their facility. This isn’t true.
In essence, the DDA makes it unlawful for any service or provider (which means any company or organisation, whether public or private) to discriminate against a disabled person in enabling access to, or in the standard of, a service provided. The Act says service providers now have to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide a reasonable means of avoiding physical features if it is otherwise impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to access a service.
Back to Bob for a quick de-code of the jargon: "I explain the DDA to school or colleges clients as it not being necessary for them to equip every room, lab or workshop with adjustable furniture, but there must be a subject room with adjustable furniture suitable for use by a person with disabilities. Then, provided they are able to reorganise timetables to suit, they will be complying with the DDA as regards a pupil with special needs spending time in a classroom. Of course, they’ll need to consult the builders about access to buildings, washroom facilities, canteens and so forth."
Far from proving too onerous, Thorpe Learning Environments believe that applying a bit of lateral thinking will add to the benefits of complying with the DDA. For example, height-adjustable furniture is not necessarily only for people in wheel-chairs. It can also be a benefit to people, (particularly teachers) who may have back or other physical problems. Thus, a fully height-adjustable teachers demonstration area in a Food Technology Room can also be used by a disabled student. This can provide the teacher with a more comfortable working area as well as making the department DDA compliant.
At Thorpe Learning Environments, they have a comprehensive range of specialist height-adjustable furniture which can be both manually and electrically operated, and which includes all necessary flexible service connections to suit all requirements. The attractive white powder-coated frames and the mechanism, to which they fix bespoke work surfaces and panels, are all manufactured to a high standard in Scandinavia and fitted them to the clients’ specifications. The frames are available in a variety of adjustment ranges to suit both primary and secondary pupils and can be either free-standing or wall mounted as may be appropriate.
Sales Manager for Thorpe Learning Environments Rob Gingell explains that for the company the emphasis is on ensuring that special needs furniture looks as closely as possible the same as the more conventional items. This makes the furniture acceptable for use by both able-bodied and special needs pupils. It helps everyone feel included rather than singled out – and it only takes a bit of adjusted thinking!
Psst! It’s worth remembering that schools may be able to receive additional funding for DDA compliance, and this is something Thorpe Learning Environments can help figure out, too!