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July 30, 2004

Millions to beat disabled access law

From: Norwich Evening News, UK - Jul 30, 2004

July 30, 2004 12:07

MILLIONS of pounds are being ploughed into making sure Norfolk's public buildings are fully accessible to the disabled before a change in the law in October.

Funds have already been spent putting in lifts; ramps, rails and signs to provide better facilities people with all sorts of disabilities.

Among the work already carried out in the county, is £4 million of improvements at schools, £500,000 at libraries, £800,000 at police stations, hundreds of thousands at museums and £300,000 this year alone at county council offices.

The move to bring Norfolk's public infrastructure up to scratch comes two years ago after the Evening News revealed a damning report found nine out of 10 public buildings were failing to meet the needs of disabled people.

The Disability Discrimination Act requires all public buildings, as well as all businesses, to either be accessible or have detailed plans in place to become accessible by October 1. Listed buildings are exempt.

Stephen Edwards, education officer in planning and buildings, said: "We have done a detailed audit of all the schools and plan to make sure at least one high school and one feeder school in every area is fully accessible. We have already carried out around 300 projects in schools."

So far 17 high schools and 21 primaries have been made accessible — and work has been going on over the last four years — at a cost of more than £1 million a year, funded by the central Government and schools.

Eventually all schools should become fully accessible, but education bosses have admitted this could take another 10 years — and much more money.

Buildings must cater for all manner if disabilities, from wheelchair-bound children, to those with hearing and visual impairments.

Martin Warren, collections and information manger for the Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, said the Castle Museum had been equipped with a lift four years ago and now most areas of the museum were accessible by wheelchair.

A lift is being installed in Cromer Museum this autumn and most of the services will be moved to the ground floor.

"Issues of accessibility — intellectual, physical, visual, tactile, electronic etc area addressed as far as possible in all our museum development projects," he said.

Jan Holden, area librarian Norwich, said half a million had been spent on libraries, with more work to be done in the future.

"We have put in automatic doors, dropped kerbs, put in ramps, lowered bookshelves and check-out desks. We have been planning it all for a while and are using county council money," she said.

Rachel Bobbitt, spokeswoman for Norwich City Council, said: "We have carried out audits of all our operational buildings including offices, parks, car parks and public toilets and have a schedule of work and a priority programme in place.

"We still have other improvements to make including lowering lift buttons, counters, seating and visual alarms for the hard of hearing or deaf."

Mark Albanie, estates manager at Norfolk Constabulary, said: "Norfolk Constabulary is undertaking an £800,000 programme of works in police buildings across Norfolk which will be completed this year.

"The majority of work will be finished by October, however, there may be a small amount of outstanding work which will be completed by Christmas."

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