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Disability Equality Specialist Support Agency


What this publication is about?

'Access Inside Out: A Guide to Making Community Facilities Accessible' aims to help Family Resource Centres (FRCs), Community Development Projects (CDPs) and other small, community-based organisations to ensure that their premises are accessible and welcoming to all people with disabilities living in their local areas. The range of issues to be taken into account and the raft of legislation, technical guidance, guidelines and resources available on this subject can make it hard to sort out what to do and where to start. 'Access Inside Out: A Guide to Making Community Facilities Accessible' offers community-based projects:

  • some ways of thinking about access and disability issues in general
  • information about what the legislation and regulations mean and how they apply to community-based projects
  • information on what access-related issues to consider when planning a new premises or making changes or improvements to your existing premises
  • help on how to get the best from your architect and other design professionals
  • ideas for low-cost and no cost ways to improve access for people with disabilities at any time, not just when planning major changes or renovations
  • information on helpful organisations and publications.


What this publication is not about?

'Access Inside Out: A Guide to Making Community Facilities Accessible' does not go into detail about how community-based projects can provide access to their programmes and activities. It is mostly about how to provide physical access. 'Access Inside Out: A Guide to Making Community Facilities Accessible' is not a substitute for the detailed legislation and guidance which govern or have a bearing on the provision of access for people with disabilities. Neither is it a substitute for getting appropriate professional advice or guidance. Crucially, it is not a substitute for building relationships with local people with disabilities and seeking their assistance in making your project more accessible. Neither is 'Access Inside Out: A Guide to Making Community Facilities Accessible' just another set of guidelines that will make community based projects feel even more confused, uncertain and harassed. Instead 'Access Inside Out: A Guide to Making Community Facilities Accessible' is intended to be a quick guide to what you need to know about what's out there in the area of access for people with disabilities. The idea is to demystify the topic so that it is easier for community-based projects to do the right thing without wasting time or making costly mistakes.


Want to know more about providing access for people with disabilities to your services and activities?


Why provide access for people with disabilities?

The enactment of equality legislation and the Building Regulations, the Special Olympics, TV programmes on disability issues and a host of other factors have raised the profile of people with disabilities in Ireland. Crucially, improvements in access to streets and buildings mean that more and more people with disabilities are out and about and visible in the ordinary daily life of communities throughout the country.

But consideration for the needs and requirements of people with disabilities is still too often an afterthought, or is thought to be too expensive to justify. There are hardly any people with disabilities round here, some people say, and they wouldn't come here anyway. We could go to lot of expense and trouble and no-one would come. Alternatively, some people say, if we make our premises and services accessible we will be overwhelmed by people with disabilities and we won't be able to cope. Another group of people community-based projects among them say, we would like to provide access for people with disabilities but we don't know what is involved or where to start. We don't want to spend what few resources we have only to find that we did the wrong thing.


Just in case you need some arguments and ammunition:

  • People with disabilities comprise at least 10% of the population
  • The term "people with disabilities" refers to people with mobility, sensory and intellectual impairments as well as those with mental health difficulties (despite the image most people have of "disability", wheelchair users are a minority of all people with impairments)
  • There are people with disabilities of all ages and in all walks of life in all communities
  • That means that whatever community-based projects do to provide better access for people with disabilities will benefit a wide range of people, including some who don't think of themselves as disabled. For example, parents accompanied by small children, older people, women in the later stages of pregnancy and people with temporary impairments, such as a broken leg, are all facilitated by more accessible buildings
  • Given access and the provision of appropriate reasonable accommodation, people with disabilities can join in all community-based activities. If you exclude them, whether deliberately or by omission, you are depriving your organisation of their talents and contribution
  • Along with all other service providers, community-based projects are required by law to offer access for people with disabilities. People with disabilities can seek redress if their needs are not met.

Still need to be convinced?

As well as reading the rest of this publication you could:

  • talk to people with disabilities in your area
  • visit the websites of the organisations listed in the resources section
  • visit the NDA library


How to think about disability?

There are two main ways of thinking about people with disabilities and disability issues. They are known as the medical model and the social model


Medical Model

According to this traditional way of thinking about disability, the exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities results from their impairments. For example, people with disabilities may be unable to go to the cinema because their physical disability prevents them from walking up steps or their hearing impairment means that they cannot hear the soundtrack. According to this way of thinking the exclusion of people with disabilities is inevitable, unless society decides as an act of charity or goodwill to make the environment more accessible.


Social Model

According to this more recent way of thinking about disability, the exclusion of people with disabilities from everyday activities is the result of the way in which society organises itself. For example, people with mobility impairments will be able to go the cinema if there are no steps or if the cinema has a lift, and hearing impaired people will be able to enjoy a film if the cinema has a loop system. According to this way of thinking, the exclusion of people with disabilities is not inevitable. People with disabilities have the right to participate and it is up to society to organise itself better so that they can.


In a society which sees Disability through the Medical Model:

  • things are organised to suit the non-disabled majority
  • disability is seen as something that deviates from the norm
  • anything that is done to facilitate the needs of people with disabilities will be seen as "special" or as a concession or an add on extra
  • non-disabled people make all the decisions about what people with disabilities need.

By contrast, in a society which sees Disability through the Social Model:

  • everyone has the right of access to the places and services of their choice
  • disability is seen as part of the continuum of everyday life, as something normal. For example, small children, older people, pregnant women and many others cannot run very fast. Some athletes can run like the wind. That range is normal in any population. The lines that we draw with "normal" on one side and "not normal" on the other are arbitrary and change over time and place. For example, a person might be considered very able by their family but be called stupid at school.


A society which sees disability through the social model will not regard features put in place to provide access for people with disabilities as special concessions. They will just be a seamless part of how things are done and will form an integral part of all planning and development.


How Ireland is thinking now?

Ireland is in the process of changing from seeing disability through the medical model to seeing it through the social model. Legislation like the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004 and the Building Regulations is intended to ensure that people with disabilities have full access to the places and services of their choice.

Community-based projects, with their emphasis on equality and development, will be drawn naturally to the social model of disability. However, because Ireland worked out of the medical model for so long, you may feel that you don't know enough about disability to know what to do. Having been educated in schools that did not include people with disabilities, and having worked in jobs which did not include people with disabilities, many non-disabled people feel worried about their own "ignorance" and concerned that they may say or do the wrong thing or make mistakes that will be hard to correct. Contacting and consulting with local people with disabilities can help to overcome these misgivings.


Want to know more?

As well as reading the rest of this publication you could:

  • visit the websites of the organisations listed in the resources section
  • get a copy of Ask Me: Guidelines for effective consultation with people with disabilities. Download it free from or get a free copy from the NDA. It is available in ordinary print, large print, on tape, on diskette and in braille.


How to think about access?

As previously discussed, until recently design features which benefited people with disabilities were seen as an add-on optional extra. For example, architects designed buildings to suit non-disabled people and then (maybe) thought about how they could be accessed and used by people with disabilities. Inevitably this meant that these "special" design features stood out and were often ugly.


Inclusive Design

In the past few years thinking has changed. People began to think about how to design so that everyone can participate on an equal basis. The aim became to provide inclusive design.This is an approach to designing which ensures that buildings, products and services can be used easily by the greatest number of people, irrespective of age or ability. Inclusive design is sometimes called design for all or universal design. Whatever name is used, this way of thinking aims to create places, products and services which are:

  • useful to all kinds of people
  • flexible
  • simple and easy to use, regardless of the user's ability, experience, knowledge, language skills or level of concentration
  • perceptible (easy for everyone to make out, even in tricky conditions)
  • tolerant of error (aren't hazardous and don't have bad outcomes if used wrongly)

and also:


Universal Right of Access

Linked to the concept of inclusive design is the universal right of access. Building for Everyone: Inclusion, Access and Use (NDA, 2002), the main Irish sourcebook of accessible building and external design, says that this means simply that "everyone can make full use of the buildings and environments they live in, work in and visit". Applied to building design this means that "the user is at the centre of the issue and process, not the building or the designer. In this approach, accessibility, central to the process from the outset, can become invisible [and] properly integrated".

Building for Everyone says that the principles of design that flow from this way of thinking are:

  • access: everyone should be able to get into buildings and environments. They should be able to approach and enter unaided, with ease and without embarrassment
  • use: everyone should be able to use buildings and external spaces with equal facility. The design and management of buildings and external spaces must not make them more difficult to use for one person than another
  • enjoyment: everyone deserves the right to enjoy their surroundings
  • safety: everyone has the right to live, work and relax in safe surroundings. The design and management of buildings and external environments must make them safe for every person
  • consideration: everyone deserves equal consideration from those who commission, design, construct and manage buildings and environments. Consideration costs nothing.


Why these ideas are important for community-based projects: And how to put them into action....

Community-based projects are concerned with equality. Building for Everyone points out that, "If the needs of a group of people are not considered in the design of a building or environment [for example, a playground], then that group is denied equality with those whom the building or environment is designed to suit. There is no principle that would defend the denial of rights simply because the owner, designer, contractor or manager of a building hasn't considered them or mistakenly thinks that it is too difficult or expensive to provide for them".

While nearly everyone, community-based projects, design professionals, the Government, the general public would agree with those statements, the reality is that often they are not put into practice consistently. Community-based projects which are serious about including people with disabilities could:

  • adopt a statement which includes a commitment to universal access and inclusive design
  • ask the manager of the project to take responsibility for ensuring that it is adhered to by everyone in the organisation.

Most importantly, when the project is selecting and working with design professionals, builders and others, it could use its statement of commitment to ensure that these principles are at the heart of the contract they draw up and the design and delivery of the building work that is being done.


Want to know more?

As well as reading the rest of this publication you could:

  • buy a copy of Building for Everyone from the NDA (price €45) or borrow a copy from your local library (make sure it's the 2002 edition)
  • visit the NDA Library to look at Building for Everyone and many other books on accessibility
  • visit, the website of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI), and look at the pages that refer to design guidance for accessibility and inclusion. Many of the guides they reference are free to download, but a lot are aimed at architects and are quite technical.