#22 Accessible Egress

How accessible is your evacuation scheme at work? If there was an emergency would anyone, with any set of abilities, be able to get out?

It's not often something that we think about but for the 1 in 5 New Zealanders living with a disability, evacuation of a building isn't as simple as running to the stairs and out the door! Our friends at EvacChair brought this to our attention last year, so we thought it was time for a quick tutorial on accessible egress.

The Fire and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations state that there must be a designated safe area for people with disabilities to wait in an emergency if they are unable to evacuate the building independently, however we would recommend that you create a plan for ALL people to be able to evacuate the building safely and quickly. Article 11 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that in situations of risk, parties to the convention shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of persons with disabilities. As New Zealand is a signatory of this convention, we are obliged by law to ensure accessible egress for all! 

Physical Disabilities
Starting with those who brought it to our attention, the folks at EvacChair enable businesses to evacuate a person with a physical disability speedily and safely with this great invention - a chair with rotating v-belts underneath to provide a smooth controlled descent down a stairway.  This could be useful not only for those with physical disabilities, but also for people who have temporary injuries like a broken leg, or those who are sick, frail or older persons.

Demonstration of the Evac Chair
A demo of the Evac+Chair in action!

Hearing Impairments
The primary indicator of an emergency for many people is an auditory device such as an alarm, however no matter how loud, an alarm could be completely pointless for a person with a hearing impairment! Luckily for us, the National Foundation for the Deaf have developed a Practical Guide for Fire Safety for the Hearing Impaired. There you can find out what the best devices are for the hearing impaired, guides for obtaining funding for these devices, and where you can get fire safety equipment for the hearing impaired.

Vision Impairments
Although those who have vision impairments can easily hear the unmissable fire alarms going off, they will need good environmental design to be able to get out of the building safely, especially if they are in a state of panic in the emergency. Things like high-contrast signage (e.g. bold black on white), and tactile or audible signs can greatly improve a blind or visually impaired person's sense of orientation.

Learning and Intellectual Disabilities
If your organisation has team members with learning or intellectual disabilities, it may be important to have frequent training sessions that clearly explain what should be done in an emergency.  It may also be a good idea to assign a buddy to this person that can help them evacuate the building safely if needed.  In fact - it would be nice for everyone to have a buddy to keep them calm in a distressing situation!

Remember that the most important thing is to be prepared.  If you have any questions about safe evacuation, please contact us or any of the mentioned organisations in this article, as well as the NZ Fire Service to create and maintain a safe evacuation procedure. This "Get Thru" page also has some great information for evacuation of people with disabilities. 

Accessible evacuation for all - Be. the Change!