The decision to undertake access audits can seem like a daunting one, especially when tens or hundreds of buildings, facilities and spaces may be under an organisation’s control.
There are a host of reasons to undertake access audits of premises, including determining compliance with relevant Australian building legislation, demonstrating a commitment to meeting the intent of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA), and perhaps most importantly, to ensure that organisations are effectively meeting their customer’s changing needs.
Customer expectations are ever-evolving and all organisations must identify and address these constantly to stay relevant. The expectation of accessibility an organisation provides, is now greater than ever, whether it is physical access, customer service access, or access to information. Expectations have shifted from the most basic requirements, such a provision of an accessible toilet, to expectations of access, based on the right of inclusion for everyone.
Access audits are a great tool in assessing how facilities, customer interaction points, and organisational processes stack up against this expectation of inclusion for everyone.
Contrary to a sometimes popular belief, commissioning access audits does not expose an organisation to more risk of a complaint under DDA. Access audits in fact reduce the risk of a complaint, by demonstrating an organisation’s commitment to identifying and acting on their responsibility to provide equitable, dignified access.
A common fear of organisations is often articulated by staff who state – “We don’t have the budget to fix everything that will be non-compliant, and if we get audits done and don’t act on them, we’ll be more exposed if someone does have a complaint.
The failure in logic here, is that there is already an acknowledgment that there will likely be access issues identified – the decision to avoid dealing with them is itself negligent.
The reality is, of course, that not all works required to comply with updated mandatory access legislation can or will be done as soon as the issues are identified. This point is most certainly recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission, and the Federal Court of Australia, who are the two bodies that consider DDA complaints.
The benefit of commissioning access audits is that the decision to begin improving accessibility via access audits, is looked upon favourably by these organisations when solution to complaints are to be determined.
A refusal to address access issues, even with basic audits of existing conditions, makes a forced determination by a commission or court more likely, if a complainant wishes to take it to that extent. During the complaint conciliation process, a complainant may also feel their needs are not being met by an organisation, if that organisation hasn’t taken steps to improve access. One of the first steps is to undertake access audits to identify access barriers. The results of these then provide the framework for access action.
Aside from determining legislative compliance, an access audit, by a qualified and accredited access consultant, can help an organisation improve their accessibility far beyond basic compliance. Information and improvements to areas such as wayfinding strategies, opportunities for incorporation of universal design considerations, as well as service modifications, can all be identified in the auditing process, and prioritised appropriately for each organisation.
Access audits are proactive starting point for organisations to address access issues and develop a practical approach to improving access for everyone including staff, customers and visitors to organisations.