Is Access for all really Access for all?

Good design of any public building or facility has to include how easy it is for people to access and use it. And that means everyone. Unfortunately, despite progress made through Access for All many places and much of our transport infrastructure remains daunting for people with disabilities to use.

Osborne is an organisation committed to equality. This doesn’t just guide the way we recruit and develop our people, it also influences our approach to building projects.

For us, nothing can be called a good design unless it is easy for everyone to access and use. Access for All (AfA)is a core design principle and not an add-on. People with disabilities have a right to use the transport infrastructure without feeling inconvenienced or as though they are a burden on their fellow users.

We have completed over 30 Access for All projects at railway stations. In our experience better project outcomes are achieved when the needs of all passengers are considered in an integrated way – looking at the overall flow of people around the station and the needs of all users rather than simply how disabled access can be accommodated into what exists.

Naturally, with Access for All projects you are rarely starting with a blank canvas and you don’t have the opportunity to completely close a station or platform while you upgrade the access. The design challenge includes making imaginative use of existing structures and standardisation of design wherever possible to speed up programmes and minimise disruption to all users and to Network Rail.

Previously, Osborne have created upgrades to Alton, Aldershot and Wokingham stations we were able to identify opportunities to standardise the design of the footbridges, lifts and stairs used at each of the stations.

Many of the elements were fabricated offsite based on other AfA projects and assembled onsite with minimal disruption. Consequently all three upgrades were designed and completed within twelve months.

Often, the key is better integration between project phases. At Euston Station, for example, by working closely with Network Rail we were able to install concourse to basement lifts, removing over 1000 tonnes of spoil in the process, with virtually no disruption to passengers or businesses in one of the UK’s busiest rail terminals. As a result there is now easy and fast access from the busy taxi drop off area directly to the platforms.

Step free access in this way benefits many users in addition to those with disabilities. People with heavy luggage or shopping, or who are travelling with young children will also see the benefit; reinforcing the view that inclusive access is a feature of good design. Access for All is a principle that runs through the core of every project we deliver.