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July 2010

On the Home Front

During the last few months we have been involved in so many time consuming consultations and discussions, that it’s been hard to find time to put fingers to keyboard to update this page. There have also been more changes in the committee. Sadly, Mark Upton has had to resign due to the pressures of his regular work, but we are pleased that he will continue to be available for advice when we need him. Thank you, Mark. The good news is that recently we were able to welcome not one, but two new members to the committee. David Ribbens brings his wide experience of working in the accessibility arena to our discussions and Mary Kitson has agreed to take on the role of Minute Secretary. We are already gaining benefits from their input to our work.

 

Presentations

Is there is no end to our versatility? In early June, four members of the Group attended a Presentation Skills course run by the Working Together Project. This took place at Bersted Green Learning Centre, Bognor Regis. The two day course covered all aspects of Power Point Presentations. GAG is now able to offer Talks and Presentations about the Group, its work within the community and its aims to bring about Access for All in the Chichester District.

Please spread the word to any groups or clubs you know that regularly need speakers. We only ask for the speaker’s travel expenses and a donation towards the group’s administrative costs.

 

Is the Customer Always Right?

Late last year we were asked to look into a detailed complaint, from a very annoyed disabled person, about the poor facilities at the Halfway Bridge. This old inn at Lodsworth had been chosen for a two-night stay, but this was cut short when the adaptations that had been made fell short of the expectations of the guests. As the Group’s policy is to look at all aspects of a report, we agreed to hear the unhappy innkeeper‘s side of the story.

As soon as we learned that the inn is ‘listed’ we knew that severe restrictions would have been placed on efforts to make the premises more disabled friendly. Although successful adaptations to the restaurant in the inn had been done, and the new accessible bedroom in the nearby converted barn was well designed, no alterations were allowed to be made to the area in front of the inn. The gravel drive, the paths and gardens had to remain unchanged.

The report of a subsequent site visit was enough to convince us that in this case the complaint was unjustified. We felt that the innkeeper had made every effort to comply with the 'reasonable adjustment' clause within the Disability Discrimination Act. Anyone needing side rails on the bed, a hoist for the bath or any other special equipment, should make very detailed enquiries before making a booking.

Consultations

Lifetime Homes
Although members of the group had heard this phrase during the past few years, we didn’t know much of the detail, so we’ll begin with a brief history (courtesy of their website). In the early 1990s, a group of housing experts developed the idea that ordinary homes should be built in such a way that they could be easily adapted. They came up with 16 Design Criteria that could be applied to all new homes at minimal cost. The criteria included such items as the width of parking places, entrances, internal doorways and halls, as well as entrance-level living space and the potential for fitting bedroom to bathroom hoists; all of importance to people with disabilities and their carers.

In 2008, the Government published 'Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing society'. This set out the need to build more flexible and inclusive housing to meet the future requirements of our ageing population. It also gave a commitment to ensure that all new public sector funded housing would be built to the Lifetime Homes Standard by 2011. It also stated the Government’s clear objective to extend that standard to cover new private sector dwellings by 2013.

In February of this year we had the chance to comment on the proposed revision of parts of the Lifetime Homes Standard that related to minimum space requirements. We were dismayed to find that ‘reduction’ rather than ‘revision’ seemed to be a more appropriate name for this particular game. For example, 750mm (29.5in) was shown as the acceptable space between the sides and foot of a double bed and any wall or piece of furniture. One of our self-propelling wheelchair-using members worked out that the gap left on either side of the ‘hand wheel’ and the bed or wall would be just 70mm (2.75in) – and that’s for a smallish wheelchair. It doesn’t leave much room to manoeuvre or allow a carer to get by, does it?

Another visit to the website produced this explanation: “The revisions to the Lifetime Homes criteria have been introduced to achieve a higher level of practicability for volume developers in meeting the requirements of the Code for Sustainable Homes. The revisions will also facilitate the adoption of Lifetime Homes design as a requirement for all future publicly funded housing developments.” Perhaps we should have realised that the whole exercise was about Pounds and not People?

Blue Badge
It was in March that the Government published a Blue Badge Consultation document. This was an information gathering exercise to give councils, groups and individuals a chance to influence the reform of the rules concerning Blue Badges. These ranged from checks to ensure eligibility to measures to prevent or reduce their abuse. Although there were only 24 questions, the wording of each question gave rise to a great deal of discussion. We also came up with a number of points that we felt needed to be clarified before badge-holders could be confident that they understood what will and will not be allowed when parking. A particular concern is that the new rules should cover the common situation where an able-bodied driver has to drop off a non-driving badge–holder at a venue that is at a considerable distance from a car park.

 

Wakehurst Place

The Group is delighted to be involved in a very important project at this popular tourist venue. Owned by the National Trust and managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, this is a site of international renown. Sometimes called Kew’s country estate, the 465 acre (188 hectare) site includes ornamental gardens, temperate woodlands and an Elizabethan Mansion. As part of Kew’s Public Education Programme, the Education Department organizes a wide range of programmes for those in full time education from Nursery to Post Graduate students.

We have been commissioned to assess the overall accessibility of the site, with a view to identifying ways of improving disabled access wherever possible. In May, members of the Group completed the first of five Access Assessments that will be carried out. During two visits, the area containing the Visitor Centre, the Honeybee Display, the Mansion, the Millennium Seed Bank and the surrounding gardens and footpaths were assessed. The report contained both complimentary comments on what had been achieved and recommendations for improvements.

 


A Doorway to the Mansion

The Education Department makes use of the Education and Display rooms inside the Mansion when evening talks and short courses for adults are arranged. These double doors are the designated Fire Exit that opens onto the Winter Gardens Terrace at the rear of the Mansion. Our assessors recommended improvements to make it easier, and safer, for visitors using wheelchairs and scooters to get out of the building.

 


The Millennium Seed Bank

The Welcome Trust Millennium Building, known as the Millennium Seed Bank, was opened in 2000. It holds the largest and most diverse collection of the seeds of wild species in the world, including those of species at risk in the wild and of most use to man. This is part of an international project to insure humanity against the loss of a substantial genetic asset for research. Visitors can see scientists at work and discover how Kew is helping to safeguard the world's most endangered plants.

 


A Path through the Beautiful Grounds

Future Assessments will examine the extensive woodlands, gardens and grounds that are at present inaccessible to physically impaired visitors. Our challenge is to come up with ideas to make at least some parts of this topographically difficult area Accessible to All.