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LEVEL or RAMPED ENTRANCE

A level or ramped main entrance is preferred. A wheelchair user can rarely get up a step higher than 12mm, or 15mm if the edges are rounded off. If the main entrance cannot be made wheelchair accessible in an existing building, an alternative entrance should be created. An inaccessible entrance should not be tolerated in a new building.

Some users will find a ramp difficult, even with handrails, so where possible alternative steps should be provided in addition to a ramp.

The DETR Part M Working Party have published a document "Accessible Thresholds in New Housing" that shows how level thresholds can be made waterproof. (The Stationery Office Ltd. ISBN 0 11 702333 7). The principle of these details can be applied to other building types.

RAMPS

Ramp gradients are best at 1 in 20 but a maximum of 1 in 12 is permitted under the Building Regulations. 1 in 15 is a maximum preferred gradient for ease of use. Wheelchair users may tip backwards or lose control forwards on ramps steeper than 1 in 12, so they are not safe.

It can take a lot of strength and stamina to go up a ramp, so level resting places are required at least every 2m for gradients of 1 in 12, every 5m for 1 in 15 and at least every 10m for gradients of 1 in 20. The distances can be interpolated between these (eg. every 4m for 1 in 14).

There should be a 100mm upstand at the sides of ramps for tapping by long canes and to stop wheels edging over.

HANDRAILS

There should be handrails to both sides of ramps or steps. Some people, such as those who have had strokes, may have a disability on one side of the body and therefore need a handrail on one side for going up and on the other side for coming down. The handrails are best as 45 to 50mm diameter mop handle types which are easier to grip. Metal can be too cold to grip in the winter.

Regulations and recommendations suggest a range of heights. For ease of use by people of different stature, heights between 900 and 1000mm above step nosings or ramp surfaces are good. Balustrades to protect from falling over edges may need to be higher than these, in which case a seperate handrail should be provided below the guarding rail. Handrails to landings should be between 900mm and 1100mm high.

STEPS

Flights of external steps should have corduroy tactile paving at the top, before the tread of the top step, but not internal steps or stairs. Nosings of steps should be non slip and the top surface of the nosings should be in a band of contrasting tone and colour so that they are easy for everyone to see.

Straight flights are easier to climb up or down than steps which turn or curve round corners.

MORE ON HANDRAILS

Handrails should be continuous up the steps or ramp and should project beyond the top and bottom by 300mm. Tactile markings before the end will give forewarning to people with visual impairments (or to anyone who is not concentrating).

Handrails should be clearly visible by colour and tonal contrast. They may need to be illuminated in some way at night.

THRESHOLDS

Thresholds should be not higher than 12mm on the inside or outside. This can be increased to 15mm if the edges are chamfered. Some aluminium and UPVc frames have particularly high thresholds which are difficult to negotiate and create tripping hazards.

LEVEL SPACE OUTSIDE DOOR

There should be a 1500mm long level space, outside the swing zone of any doors, in front of entrances. This is so that a wheelchair can be static while the user uses one or both hands to open the door.

ENTRANCE DOORS

Entrance doors should be easy to open. Automatic opening doors are preferred in many situations. They help blind people, wheelchair users, parents with buggies and people carrying shopping or other items. If not automatic, door closers should be adjusted to make their opening as easy as possible in the particular location (not requiring more than 30 Newtons of opening pressure). In new buildings, the orientation of the doors in open and closed positions should be considered so that they are not affected by prevailing wind and weather conditions.

Entrance doors or one leaf of a pair of doors should have a clear open width of at least 800mm. Where appropriate, there should be clear vision of who might be on the other side at a suitable height for wheelchair users and shorter people.

ENTRANCE HAZARDS

Glazed fronts and doors should have reasonably large, contrasting, very visible markings to show where the glass is. It should be made clear which markings are glass panels and which are on opening doors. The leading edges of glass doors need to be obviously marked so that they are not walked into when in the open position. Why not think again of using automatic opening sliding doors!

COLUMNS

The presence of columns should be made obvious by use of colour and tonal contrast and, perhaps, by a contrasting band at eye height. The ambient lighting needs to be considered as all these visual provisions will have little effect in a dark area or in an unlight area at night.

DOOR BELL or COMMUNICATOR

A door bell is useful for summoning assistance, when the building is open or temporarily closed. This might be best at the foot of ramps or steps. It should be between 1000mm and 1200mm high to be within reach of most people. A voice communicator is also useful but its use should be clear and it may not help people with hearing impairments or whose first language is not english. Two might be needed for use by people in wheelchairs and those who are standing.

LETTER BOXES

Letter boxes should be at a suitable height and location for all users, including wheelchair users and shorter people. Their location should be clear and obvious.