Providing Physically Impaired & Disabled Access to Drinking Water

By Business.com Editorial Staff
Business.com / HR Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

 When considering the provision of access for the disabled and physically impaired possibly the very last thing that is considered ...

 When considering the provision of access for the disabled and physically impaired possibly the very last thing that is considered is the access to drinking water.

This article is intended to offer guidance to employers, those in charge of public buildings and also the physically impaired and disabled and will hopefully allow you to make an informed decision on the best water system for a given site and situation.
First of all it’s important to remember that the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) gives disabled people rights of access to everyday services, including cinemas, places of worship, shops etc. In addition there are some special provisions laid down under the DDA, helping to ensure that employers don’t discriminate against disabled people for reasons relating to their disability. Under the DDA an employer has the duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people are not put at a substantial disadvantage by a physical feature of the workplace. Modifications can include making adjustments to the buildings where the disabled work and providing modified equipment as appropriate. (1)

According to general employment law Business Link UK states that employers are required to “make an accessible seated area available for staff to eat, with access to drinking water and hot drinks” (2). If employees regularly eat in the workplace they are entitled to expect an accessible area in which they can eat and if food is likely to be contaminated elsewhere (such as within a factory or workshop) they are also entitled to seating arrangements, hot drink facilities, and a way of heating food. In addition to this employers must also provide free drinking water and cups, unless the water is dispensed via a drinking fountain or similar.

If you are considering making provisions for those with physical impairments or if you wish to approach an employer with a request then it’s important (where possible) to enter into dialogue with those concerned about their needs and requirements. Sometimes a normal water cooler is the best choice when the impairments or disability are not severe, at other times highly specialised systems are the best solution. Most importantly the feelings of the individual should be considered, it maybe that specialist solutions might make the individual feel uncomfortable and even more isolated. When considering modifications or purchasing such equipment the DDA suggests questions that you could consider:
  • how effective will an adjustment be?
  • will it mean that your disability is slightly less of a disadvantage or will it significantly reduce the disadvantage?
  • is it practical?
  • will it cause much disruption?
  • will it help other people in the workplace?
  • is the cost prohibitive?
    (1)
To provide you with some insight as to the 2 main types of drinking water system that may be considered for serving the Disabled or Physically impaired please see below:

Specialist Water Fountain Systems
While specialist drinking facilities are not required by all who are disabled or physically impaired, there are situations (particularly when fountains are being considered within larger buildings) when a system can be fitted that takes those with significant physical impairments into account. Specialist water fountains typically feature the following benefits:
  • The water may be activated via a peddle and via large push buttons at the side and front of the machine.
  • The system is wall mounted and wheelchairs can fit underneath the sink itself, this allows those in wheelchairs to approach the machine and provides best possible access to the tap.
  • The tap is a bubbler negating the need to hold a cup while the machine dispenses. The location off the tap is also important mounted forward it allows those in wheelchairs to remain seated while water is dispensed.
  • The water comes not from bottles but straight from the mains water supply and maybe filtered to remove bad tastes and odours.
Wall Mounted Sinks an Alternative Water System
If the more expensive fountain systems are prohibitive then the simple addition of a sensitively installed wall mounted sink can (in many cases) provide adequate access to individuals confined to a wheelchair. The benefits of wall mounted sinks include:
  • The system is wall mounted and wheelchairs can fit underneath the sink itself, this allows those in wheelchairs to approach the machine and provides best possible access to the tap.
  • The tap is a bubbler with a handle which may cause issues for some people, the location off the tap maybe altered on some systems but installation at the front of the machine is often not made available by the manufacturer.
  • The water comes not from bottles but straight from the mains water supply and maybe filtered to remove bad tastes and odours.
Conclusion
It is important for those who are Physically Impaired or Disabled to be able to as far as possible lead a normal life. The simple act of entering a building an easy task for the able bodied individual can become a source of anxiety and frustration for those who are reliant on wheelchair access. Similarly the ability to have easy access to water without having to ask the help of a passer by is also important in order to ensure that individuals are not left feeling apart from society. Consultation is essential as is the knowledge of the types of water systems are available and what issues each system can help to overcome.

Resources:
1. http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/Employmentsupport/YourEmploymentRights/DG_4001071 SOURCED ON: 14 January 2008
2. http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/layer?r.l1=1073858799&topicId=1074469549&r.l2=1073877897&r.s=tl SOURCED ON: 29 May 2007
 

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