Schools, like other public bodies, have an obligation to provide equal access to their pupils, the teachers and other staff who work there, as well as visitors. Not only does it create a space where all individuals can interact freely and feel welcome, but it promotes the kind of inclusivity that we all want to see and enjoy.
Most schools make provision for disabled persons to access their property but knowing whether you have every facility in place that they need can often be difficult to assess. Issues commonly arise when someone with a disability arrives and cannot get easy access to a particular part of the school. It’s a question of looking beyond the standard ramps at the entrance and looking at every part of the buildings to make sure they are accessible. In short, it’s about being proactive in your approach.
Do You Have the Right Plan in Place?
All schools have a duty to put plans in place to improve access for all pupils, staff and visitors. In fact, the Equality Act stipulates that a school must make all reasonable adjustments to provide this access. The definition of what is a reasonable adjustment depends on a number of factors including:
- The disability being addressed and what needs or changes are required.
- The practicality of making those changes.
- The resources the school has available and the cost of making accessibility changes.
- Alternatives to overcoming a particular accessibility problem.
Are Areas in Your School ‘Off Limits’?
Schools should also be making regular audits of their property to check whether any areas such as classrooms, restrooms and offices are essentially ‘off limits’ to those with a disability. This should be an ongoing and regular review of provision and needs to be proactive rather than merely reactive to issues that suddenly arise when someone with a disability visits the school. Indeed, the duty that schools have to make these kinds of changes is supposed to be, under the law, anticipatory. That means you don’t have to have a disabled pupil or teacher attending to make the changes but you should be making provision for the possiblity.
How Improving Accessibility Benefits Your School
Apart from the obvious of making education available to all pupils whether they have a disability or not, ensuring you premises are fully accessible improves your reputation. By providing better access on walkways, for steps and stairs, and doorways, you improve the inclusiveness of your school. This can include installing:
- Ramps and stairway lifts.
- Making doorways wider so wheelchair access is easier.
- The installation of automatic doors.
- Improving lighting in certain areas and including adequate and easy to understand signage.
Our schools should be place of inclusivity and many institutions are still working hard to improve access to all areas for pupils and staff. Of course, this is more difficult with older buildings that may have structural issues which have to be taken into account but that doesn’t mean schools should not be trying to find solutions. Many of the stair lifts and ramps available nowadays are easy to install and don’t need as much construction work as they used to. They are also more affordable than they were perhaps ten to fifteen years ago. The investment is certainly worth it if we want to provide full access to everyone, whatever their needs.