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Access Audits part 2: format options

In part 1 of our short series on access audits we discussed why audits are needed and who should undertake them. In this instalment we discuss the different formats for access audits. It’s an aspect that’s often not given proper consideration.

Format options

Over the years we have been working in this field, we have seen a massive variety in the type and level of detail of access audits, ranging from two page ‘tick box’ audits for substantial civic buildings through to dissertation sized reports for tiny little churches. There is no right or wrong answer so long as the audit served the users intended purpose and captured all the potential barriers disabled people would face.

Generally there are two different options for the format of an audit; either it’s a narrative based report that discusses issues or it’s a set of agreed questions within structured reporting format such as excel or a database package.

In our experience the starting point for any access audit needs to be a proper understanding of the reports reader’s needs and current situation. The format and level of detail required for an audit should take into account:

  • The number/scale of buildings to be audited
  • The extent and nature of the reports audience and their objectives
  • How any issues will be remedied
  • Long/short term plans for the sites in question

For some organisations with limited numbers of sites, fully descriptive written narrative audits can provide a workable solution. This sort of describe and discuss based reporting format is really useful in helping the reader understand the barriers disabled people face within the environment and can be quite powerful tools for change if read by the right people within an organisation. They tend to be understandable by a wide range of people and can prove useful in getting wider stakeholders engaged with the accessibility question.

If however the organisation is looking at auditing multiple sites, this sort of level of information can be daunting and not practical for to deal with. Imagine having 30 or 40 describe and discuss based audits of 8,000 words each landing on your desk! Daunting to say the least. For this sort of audit programme, the need for a consistent and structured format is clear.

Of course, these formats can include a great deal of detail and discussion if the client so required, but we would always ask ourselves whether the information being produced is actually useful to the organisation moving forward or not. This sort of item by item structured audit allows bigger organisations to manage their access audit findings in an auditable way, updating it as things change, crossing off items as they are attended to over time. They create an audit trail which can become very important in the event of a challenge for failure to make reasonable adjustments.

Structured reporting can also serve as reference document in the same way as an ‘asbestos register’. For example if part of a building is damaged and due to be repaired the organisation can check this sort of data to ensure any works take the opportunity to address access issues as part of the works, which is likely to be more cost effective than upgrades undertake in isolation.

The other major factor is the long/short term plans for the site. For example, if an organisation knows that they are going to be vacating the premises in 2 years’ time they may not consider it reasonable to undertake major works and hence, the audit may need to be constrained to management related issues and minor works. Or conversely, the client may be putting together a long term investment plan and weighing up major refurbishment options and therefore a more detailed audit may be appropriate.

We know that there are lots consultancies around who offer access audits based on their standard pro forma, templates and even software, however we believe good audits need to be tailored, if not bespoke to the reader’s needs, not the authors!

In Part 3, we will be blogging about some other aspects of access audits, such as:

  • access audits vs first person experience reviews
  • what to do once you have good audits!

If you want to talk about access audits, feel free to get in touch.

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