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Access Auditing

Environmental access is a set of norms and standards designed to provide safe and independent use of varied environments such as transportation, roads, buildings and communications by people with disabilities. Universal design is a commitment for designing products and environments for the broadest population possible, especially for the people who have not been considered as part of the general population.

However, accessibility has been one of the most neglected issues in the disability sector. The estimated 70 million disabled persons in India remain confined to their homes, as attempts to travel, enter buildings, parks, shops, etc, can be unsafe and humiliating. In the past 5 years, the Government in New Delhi has made just 13 buildings accessible for disabled people. Environmental access is a legal right for people with disabilities and should therefore be strictly enforced. Attitudinal changes have to be brought about among policy makers in the government and private sectors, design professionals, architects, manufacturers.

The Access Audit

The disability sector has to take the responsibility of enforcing the law. In the last 5 years the response from the government and the private sector has been lukewarm, hence the need for access audits.
The aims of the audit and its follow-up are to:

  • Identify the extent of the problem of access to public buildings
  • To create awareness of the importance of the concept of barrier-free environments for people with disabilities
  • To enforce the inclusion of accessibility for people with disabilities in the official agenda of government and private agencies

The use of universal design and accessibility codes have the potential to produce designs that are non-discriminating, offer equal opportunity and provide personal empowerment to all uses. Public places like shopping complexes, parks, cinemas, government and private offices, training centres all need to be made accessible for people with different disabilities. The process has to begin by assessing the problem and taking firm action towards making the built environment disabled-friendly.


The Process

The audit process has to be well planned so as to make it a successful and fruitful exercise. The process involves the participation of many people. Consequently, the auditing organization has to take utmost care in coordinating and planning the event. Broadly one can categorize the audit process into three groups:


An audit takes about 90 minutes to conduct. However, to make the audit effective, it is advisable to spread an audit of 5 places over 2 days as the audit of a hotel or a hospital is expected to take more time than that of a bank or cinema hall.

Pre-audit preparation

Introductory Meeting

The auditing organisation should convene a meeting to discuss the audit process. The letter should brief the members about the importance of audit and the agenda for the meeting. Sample letter

During the meeting the following points should be discussed:

  • Drawing up the core group (the group can include organizations representing different disabilities) which would plan the audits
  • Nominating or appointing a coordinator
  • Definition of the role of each member of the group
  • Identification of organizations to be audited
  • Drawing up of a budget for the audit process
  • Nominating a person who would centralize all information and be a relay person on the day of the audit
  • Working out strategies for media mobilization
  • Drawing up the audit team, partners of the process
  • Drawing up a detailed schedule with specified dates
This group should decide to meet periodically to report on the progress of their individual audits.

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Media Mobilization

An audit is a process of not only identifying public places which are not "comfortably accessible" but also for creating awareness of the fact that environmental access is a legal right for people with disabilities. Hence mobilization of the media is important. To mobilize the media the following should be done:

  • Invitation to a press conference should be sent to chief reporters and chief photographers of various newspapers and magazines and to the news desks of various channels and to other media contacts. Sample letter
  • Follow-up to ensure participation in the press conference
  • A press kit must be prepared, containing a background note of the issue, a copy of The Disability Act, relevant papers from the CPWD manual to be distributed on the day of the press conference Samples
  • A press conference should be held to present the issues and its importance
  • News reports must be compiled
  • The media should be provided with all relevant details from time to time so that they can be fully involved in the process.
  • A detailed letter, including the schedule for the audit should be sent to the media before the audit explaining the details and soliciting participation Sample letter
  • Follow-up to ensure participation in the audit

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The Audit team

The core audit team should comprise of a group of people with different types of disabilities (persons with limited mobility, wheelchair users, persons visual impairment, including low vision, with speech and hearing impairments, persons with mental handicap), parents, architects, and professionals. Further, this team should have people of different age groups and/or of varying degrees of disability to ensure a holistic audit. The core group should total between 10 and 12. The team should also include a photographer to collect photographic evidence.

A pre-audit meeting could set in motion the primary communality of opinion of the importance of the audit and the process. The program and meeting points should be communicated well in advance to the team and replacements should be identified for each member in case a member cannot attend the audit for any reason.

The team would also have to be briefed on filling up the audit checklist. The checklist should be communicated to the members of the audit team well in advance so that any queries can be answered before the audit.

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The Partners

The partners of the audit, which include the media and other agencies in the sector, should be kept fully informed of the audit process and invited to be present at the day of the audit. Sample letter inviting them to an information meeting.

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Organization To Be Audited

The organization to the audited should be informed of the aims of the audit along with the detailed schedule of the audit. The letter to the organization must include a list of the parts of the buildings and facilities that the team would visit. The sample letter requests an appointment with the head of the organization on the day of the audit for submitting the representation. The sample letter of representation should be prepared before and taken to the venue on the day of the audit.

Constant coordination with the organization to be audited is of utmost importance for a successful audit and the implementation of any suggestions for improvement that may be made by the audit team.

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Audit Process

This section discusses the planning and implementation of the actual audit. The planning for the audit should cover:

  • The core audit team
  • Media management
  • Overall coordination

The Core Audit Team

  • The audit team should assemble outside the venue in advance to discuss the process of the audit.
  • The attendance sheet should be signed by all the members of the assembled team Sample
  • The team members should know the parts of the building they are to audit.
  • The appropriate part of the audit checklist should be used for each section of the building audited. It is important to address each item of the checklist.
  • The group should assess the area taking all kinds of disability into account.
  • The photographer must be briefed and be guided by a member of the core audit team.
  • The results of the different parts of the audit must be compiled.
  • The audit team should meet the authorities of the organization, with the media, to inform them of the findings of the audit and submit a representation. The team must get a commitment to incorporate the changes necessary to make the building disabled-friendly.

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Media Management

The media members should be asked to assemble at one place from where they will be transported to the venue of the audit or they should assemble at the site of the audit. A person must be appointed to coordinate with the media. A press briefing should be held and the media provided with a press kit. The media must be invited to join the team when it submits its representation to the head of the organization.

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Overall Coordination

Since the audit process involves many people, a well-defined programme for the audit has to be drawn up. The following must be kept in mind:

  • A schedule. A person should be nominated to monitor adherence to the planned programme.
  • A designated Coordinator for overall synchronization of the audit goals
The following items must be carried by the audit team:
  • copies of the audit checklist
  • pens and hard boards
  • attendance sheets
  • copy of The Disability Act, 1995
  • awareness materials
  • copy of the representation to be submitted to the organization audited
  • press kits

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Post Audit Reporting And Follow-Up

The reporting of the audit is in 2 parts:

  1. Report on the building being audited, for submission to the organization which houses the building; and
  2. Complete report containing all the details relevant to the entire audit exercise.

Reports To Be Submitted To The Organization Audited

The data collected during the audit must be compiled and a report must be prepared. The report would be based on the following points:

  • name of the place audited
  • date of the audit
  • members of the audit team
  • observations on the areas audited, and the main conclusions of the audit
  • suggestions for short-term and long-term improvement, based on the CPWD guidelines
  • follow-up guidelines
A time-frame can be suggested for adopting the suggested changes. This report must be handed over to the audited organization, with a letter of appreciation for courtesies and cooperation extended, a copy of the completed audit checklist used to audit the institution and a copy of the relevant CPWD guidelines (sample formats)

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Report Of The Access Audit Project

A report of the audit itself must be drawn up. It should include the aims, the details of the audit process, ie, the pre-audit preparation, the process itself and the post audit reporting and follow-up, including the results of the audit and suggestions for improvement, which have been made. The report should include photographs and copies of news clippings of the audits. This report must be archived for future reference and follow-up action.

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Brief Description Of The Essentials Of A Building That Are Evaluated

Entrances/Exits

The main entrances and exits of buildings must be clearly identifiable and easily accessible. They must be wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users. Steps and ramps must have hand railings of contrasting colours. Building should have automatic sliding doors. In multistorey buildings, the entrance should permit access to a conveniently located elevator. Emergency exits should be easily identifiable and accessible.

Parking

Parking for people with disabilities should be available near the building. IT should be accessible to cross-disability groups equally. Accessible indoor parking spaces should be located closest to the elevators and within 50 metres of building entrance. The parking slots reserved for people with disabilities should be marked with the international symbol of accessibility. There should be procedures in place to make sure that non-disabled people do not use parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities. Drop off areas should be marked by a well-defined signage system and an accessible travel path from this area to the building should be available.

Ramps

Complementary ramps should be available next to stairs. The gradient of ramps should allow easy use by wheelchair users. Appropriate landings should be available and the ramps should be wide enough for use by wheelchair users. Ramps surfaces should be slip-resistant and clear of obstacles. They should be protected on both sides. Ramps should be marked with the international symbol of accessibility.

Elevators

Elevators should be easily accessible and identifiable. The doors should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchair users and the space inside should be sufficient for them. Elevators should have handrails of contrasting colours on three sides and be at appropriate heights. Visual and audible signals indicating the arrival at different floors should be available. Emergency intercoms should be usable without voice communication in emergencies. Tactile/ Braille instructions should be provided for the communication systems.

Stairs

Stairs should be easily accessible and identifiable. The minimum width of the stairs should be wide enough and the landings have enough space at the top and bottom. The stair surfaces and nosings should be slop resistant. Handrails should be provided for staircases.

Corridors

The minimum unobstructed width of corridors should be wide enough for wheelchair users and should allow manoeuvering through doors along the length f the corridor. The corridors should have guiding blocks along its length.

Washrooms, Toilets And Bathrooms

Separate toilets should be available for people with disabilities. They should be clearly identifiable and accessible. The doors should be wide enough and should be lockable from inside and releasable from outside. There should be enough manoeuvring space inside. All floor surfaces should be slip resistant. Mirrors, flushing arrangements, dispensers and toilet paper should be mounted at appropriate heights. They should be equipped with alarm systems for emergencies.

Public Telephones

There should be at least one telephone accessible to wheelchair users and should be equipped with hearing aids. The numbers should be embossed to allow easy identification. The coin slots should be at appropriate heights.

Counters

This includes reception counters, ticket counters, cash counters and administration counters. Counters should be easily identifiable and accessible to wheelchair users. Counter staff should be able to communicate with persons with hearing and visual disabilities.

Drinking Water Facilities

They should be easily accessible and the fountain head accessible to wheelchair users.

The area around the fountain should be dry to prevent falls. Glasses should be provided at drinking water facilities. The taps should be easily manoeuvrable.

Eating Outlets

Accessibility of eating outlets for people with various kinds of disability must be assessed. Tables, service counters and cash counters should be at appropriate heights. There should be enough place inside for easy movement by wheelchair users. A menu card should be available in Braille. Facilities should be available for people with speech impairment to place orders.

Audit Of Specific Areas Of Buildings

Some buildings have areas specific to them and different aspects must be looked when auditing them.

Hospitals

Patients have to visit the examination and sample collection rooms of hospitals and may get admitted to wards in them.

Examination Rooms

Examination rooms should be easily identifiable and accessible. The examination tables should be of the right size and height.

Sample Collection Rooms

Sample collection rooms should be easily identifiable and accessible. The rooms should be large enough to enable easy mobility within them. The toilets attached to sample collection rooms should be east to use. The sample collection tables should be easily accessible.

Wards

Wards should be easily identifiable and accessible to people with different disabilities. Space in wards should allow easy mobility by wheelchair users. All fixtures should be at accessible heights. They should be obstacle free. Guiding lines should be available for people with visual impairment.

Banks

All counters should be easily identifiable and accessible. Counters should be at appropriate heights. The staff at the counters should be to communicate with people with hearing impairments. The manager's office should be easily identifiable and accessible. Various forms should be placed at accessible counters and space should be available for the clients to fill the forms easily.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) should be easily accessible to clients with various types of disability. They should be placed in areas, which allow mobility for wheelchair users. They should be slip resistant and have grab bars.

Hotel Rooms

At least one room easily accessible should be located on the ground floor to enable rapid evacuation in case of emergencies. The room should be equipped with an alarm system. All fixtures and controls should be at accessible heights. The space in the room should allow mobility for a wheelchair user. The windows should allow unobstructed viewing for wheel chair users. Room facilities, like phones, fire alarms, wake-up alarms, etc., should be accessible to people with different disabilities.

Cinema Halls

Tickets counters and the hall should be easily accessible. Specific seats should be allocated to wheelchair users.

Government Offices

The public areas should be accessible to people with different disabilities. The counter staff should be able to guide people with different disabilities. Letter boxes should be accessible.

Historical Sites

The site details should be available in Braille. Trained guides should be available for people with different disabilities. Shops should be accessible.

The Disability Access Audit Checklist

The disability access audit checklist includes details that have to be looked into for carrying out a disability access audit. They must be completely and accurately filled out to carry out a meaningful audit.

The checklist has been divided into two parts. Part 1 (A to K) is for areas common to all buildings audited, while Part 2 (L to Q) deals with areas specific to locations, like banks, cinema halls, etc. It sis non-exhaustive and should be adapted to specific needs.

The checklist must be filled in by answering " yes ", "no", or " not applicable " to the questions. Observations made in the remarks column during the audit will determine how disabled friendly a location is.

View the Checklist

Index Of Sample Formats

  1. Clauses 44 - 46 of Disability Act, 1995
  2. Non discrimination
  3. Sample Audit Budget
  4. Sample Invitation to attend a Press Conference
  5. Sample background note of the press kit
  6. Sample Invitation to the media to the audit
  7. Sample format of schedule of the audit
  8. Sample invitation to partners to an information meeting
  9. Sample letter to the organization to be audited
  10. Sample format of attendance sheet
  11. Sample representation letter
  12. Sample letter of thanks to the organization audited
  13. Sample report

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