1.11.2014 429Creating disability shop access to cafe and retail shops on sidewalks and public footpaths is often frustrating but don’t lose heart.  Using construction knowledge design and intuition, it’s possible to get access to the most difficult situation where others simply give up and apply for unjustifiable hardship under the Disability Discrimination Act.

The conundrum of getting ramped access to shop entries without taking up the entire shop we will answer shortly, but firstly lets walk through some common problems. Access to shop premises for people with disability is required when new building works, alterations and additions or a change of use triggers upgrade requirements, e.g. a clothing shop changes to a cafe, and the existing floor level is at a different level than the public footpath.

In most cases the existing shop level is 150 to 250 mm above the footpath and the footpath slopes with the natural ground level. The worst situations arises when council sets a flood datum based on climate change predictions that might be over 1 meter above the existing paving.

To turn the table, we’re also asked to resolve footpath levels for councils where every shop has a different level.

A little history; a step at an entry doors was once an answer to termites storm water and dust penetration and is still asked for is in some residential work.  This wasn’t always the case and many pre 1950’s buildings had level entries, yet health and safety provisions progressively crept in to popularise the step. Entries that introduced multiple steps, such as at banks, courthouses and churches did it for architectural reasons, i.e. to make sure you’re bowing to the higher being as you enter.

Overcoming the problem is never a matter of pushing for straight conformity to the standards. It’s an asymmetrical  process of understanding the problem; the ownership and budget issues, the level differences, the buildings structure, material, orientation exposure and pedestrian flows.  In establishing these project success criteria first, the agreeable designing solutions will begin to present.

Case Study: Maker’s Loft Cafe in Cammeray

cafe accessA new cafe in North Sydney that joins a sloping footpath required a ramped entry as a condition of approval and it was never going to be possible to get a space efficient entry ramp by strictly applying the codes.  The budget was tight and the building owners preference was to see the tenant construct the entry, of course, and the councils position was not to change the footpath.

Added design issues included: how to secure the doors that closed over the ramp, avoiding the ramp sides from becoming trip hazards and connecting with the sloping footpath.

We will discuss the councils position in a future blog, suffice to say that there is a mutual obligation to provide access at property boundaries and this is something we work with local government to achieve.

On this occasion the first obstacle was to determine if access was required and if so whose responsibility it was to finance and construct (this again is another blog). To begin with it looked like the cost of the works would blow the budget and delay opening and the cafe considered applying for unjustifiable hardship; a dispensation on financial grounds.

In discussion on site over an espresso, the opportunities began to present.  We documented the minor differences in materials and slope dimensions that might be exploited  to achieve the grades in a subtle way. We looked for ways to leverage trigonometry to the best advantage, limit the ramp footprint and avoid intrusive handrails and tactiles.

When it came time to build, the cost estimates were still in the thousands and difficult to get one trade to do the entire demolition concreting and tiling.  This is where the owners leveraged their location opposite a construction site and persuaded a demolition builder to break the slab and pour the ramp in exchange for coffee and lunch.

The builder did a quality skilled job in shaping the cement to marry the floor and the path without further cutting and paving. The end result is a new welcoming entry ramp at a fraction of the quoted amount and customers on bikes, trolleys, wheelchairs and prams can roll in and out as they please.

The lesson here is not to get overwhelmed, keep access as the aim and seek opportunities for mutual gain.

Visit: www.makersloft.com.au

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