Article: Entry and Reception

Identifying access problems

How many problems of accessibility can occur in a short distance? In the example illustrated below the problems include the following:

• a ramp that is too steep
• a rough surface with inset bricks which has tripping hazards
• black bollards, which are difficult to see
• tinted glass, which causes confusing reflections on the entrance doors
• doors which are heavy to open and where each leaf is too narrow
• an inner set of doors which is so close to the outer doors that, for many people, both sets have to be open at the same time
• a reception desk that is too high
• background noise, which makes it difficult to hear the receptionist
• a combination of low levels of illumination and glare, which makes it difficult to lip-read when talking to the receptionist

This steep ramp features tripping hazards due to the irregular surface and leads towards black bollards which are difficult to see
The black bollards contribute to the confusing reflections on the glass of the entrance doors

If the reception staff were not very responsive and helpful, these problems would be much more apparent.

This example illustrates that accessibility and communication are the key considerations in the design or appraisal of an entrance and reception area. These may have to be balanced by the needs for control of access and for security. Communication begins with the street names, sign-posting and signing systems which enable people to find the entrance. It is surprising how often an access audit identifies problems in finding the route to the entrance when the staff and regular visitors may be quite unaware of these problems.

Tactile paving may be required on the routes towards the premises. Recognising that this is often over-used and can cause problems for many people with disabilities, BS 8300 recommends that tactile paving 'should be used sparingly and only after consultation with groups representing visually impaired people'.

BS 8300 recommends (para 5.5.2) that tactile paving 'should be used sparingly and only after consultation with user groups'
This view shows at least eight different surface textures

Gaining entry

At the entrance, any changes of level should be achieved by sloping access and with steps or, if necessary, a lift capable of carrying a wheelchair user or person with limited mobility. It is not usually adequate to provide a stairlift, which can only compound the problems if wheelchair users have to transfer to the stairlift (see photo below). BS 8300 points out that oval handrails, with a broad horizontal face, may be preferable to circular handrails because these give better support to the hand and forearm. In exposed situations, nylon covered handrails are warmer to the touch than stainless steel.

Unlike a platform lift, this stairlift is useless for anyone who needs a wheelchair

If the entrance is controlled, the visitor will need to ring for authorisation to enter. In this case, the call button should be clearly identifiable, and at a height of not more than 1200mm, for people who are partially sighted, short in stature or in a wheelchair. For those who are deaf or have impaired hearing there should be a visual indication (for example LED) to show that the door is open - consider how frequently, with a background of traffic noise, it is impossible for anyone to hear the verbal response on an entry control system.

Recent 'improvements': the shiny metal plate to the right of the door is illegible, the doorbell is too high, the ramp is about 1 in 6, there is no level landing and no handrail.
Because the door opens outwards visitors tend to step backwards off the edge of the ramp

The lobby area

A canopy or recessed porch can enable people to stop under cover before negotiating the entrance doors. The entrance doors should be easy to open manually or have mechanical assistance, for example automatic or semi-automatic sliding or swing doors. A lobby, with outer and inner doors, may be used to reduce draughts in the entrance area but the airlock arrangement will be effective only if one set opens in and the other opens out. The clear space between the doors should be about 1600 mm to enable a wheelchair to manoeuvre. Any door-opening furniture should preferably have lever handles - these are not only easier to grip than round handles but can be used with a closed fist, benefiting those with a weak grip or arthritis.

Two pairs of automatic sliding doors provide easy access for everyone at a day centre for people with disabilities.
The coir matting is soft and should be replaced with a firmer matting surface


Internal finishes

Inside the entrance doors, there should generally be a recessed mat which is firm (not soft coconut matting) and which cleans shoes and wheelchair wheels as they enter. It is particularly important that on a wet day the internal floor does not become slippery as water drips off raincoats and umbrellas. Smooth and shiny floor surfaces, for example vinyl or marble, can become very slippery and a real hazard for everyone, particularly for people with walking difficulties.

Lighting levels in the entrance area should be intermediate between the internal and external levels of illumination, typically about 200 lux, so as to enable the eyes of visitors to adjust when going in or out. For many people who are elderly or have impaired vision, it is essential to avoid glare both from sunlight and from artificial lighting. A covered porch is a simple and self-regulating way of achieving appropriate illumination at an entrance.

Highly polished floors can cause problems of glare for many people and become dangerously slippery when wet. The solution may be to use a different floor polish


This notice, embossed and with Braille signs, is clear for everyone

Once inside, the route to the reception or information desk should be clearly apparent.
At this stage in the journey, where there can be a conflict between security and accessibility, people with disabilities should be at no more of a disadvantage than anyone else. For example, if the desk is high, there should be a surface at a height of about 750-850 mm and this should be located at the most convenient part of the desk and not, as often occurs, hidden away at the side. The options for reception desks include:

a) open desks with low security risks - good lighting can assist direct
communication for everyone, particularly when people need to lip-read

b) desks closed with security glass - microphones or induction loops are then necessary and good lighting continues to be important

Although the knee space under the lower shelf is too shallow, this reception desk is welcoming for everyone, including visitors and staff with wheelchairs

In many reception areas, background noise of music or water features can make it very difficult to communicate at the reception desk. A classic example of getting it wrong occurs in many large buildings where, in order to improve accessibility for people with disabilities, the entrance is fitted with sliding doors.

Accessibility with security: the high reception desk with a curved base protects staff from violent clients; the low desk would be suitable for both staff and clients with wheelchairs (if the plants were moved!). Induction loops have been installed

The result can be that, at busy entrances, the doors are open for so much of the time that there are cold draughts at the reception desk. Fan heaters are then installed to keep the reception staff warm, with the result that the noise level makes normal verbal communication almost impossible!

Waiting around

The waiting areas should have some seats with arms, space for wheelchair users, adequate but glare-free lighting, good contrasts of colour and tone and an appropriate way of informing people that the person they have come to see is available. The most natural way to do this is by someone walking to greet them. In doctors' surgeries and hospitals, where less personal methods may be required, vibrating pagers can be discrete and appropriate for many people.

New technology

Microtechnology provides increasingly sophisticated methods for assisting people with disabilities. This includes providing information about their progress in a queue, the time when they are called and the routes which they should follow. Keyless entry systems can then unlock and open selected doors, providing unobstructed routes as people proceed towards their destination. Computer technology can also assist people with visual impairments by enlarging documents on screen.

Computer technology can assist people with impaired vision to read documents such as BS 8300 which is published in ten point.


Adrian Cave Associates

"access with elegance"

Architects and Access Consultants