Towards the end of 2013 Governance Services were advised that a Conservative candidate who is a wheelchair user had been selected to contest a seat in the May elections to the Council. As this was a ‘safe’ Conservative seat, it was assumed that after May the Council would have its first Councillor with significant mobility issues. Following the election and after discussions with the new Councillor, it also became apparent that because of limited mobility he would have difficulty operating the request to speak and voting buttons which are sited in front of each Councillor who sits in the Council Chamber.
Kensington Town Hall has, over the last few years, undergone a large internal renovation and redesign of its office space. This has included the provision of a new main entrance for staff and visitors with a lift and accessible meeting rooms. The majority of the Town Hall is therefore fully-accessible to wheelchair users. The only area which needed addressing was the area used by Councillors. While the committee rooms are already accessible by lift, there was a problem with the Council Chamber which was ‘stepped’ and had no ramps. A review of accessibility to the areas of the Town Hall used by councillors was therefore undertaken.
The Council Chamber prior to the works.
Contact was made with the Councillor-elect about the issues in the Council Chamber and his requirements were ascertained.
Newly-elected councillors sit on the back row of the seats in the Council Chamber. This is a step down from the back of the Chamber. Arrangements were therefore made to provide an access ramp so that a wheelchair could negotiate this step. The Councillor could then take his place among the Members of the Council. A ramp was designed and made to order and the Councillor then tried it out ahead of the first Council meeting. Some amendments were made to ensure the ramp was not too steep and was fitted with rubber to provide grip for his wheelchair.
In addition, a section of the bench top in front of the Councillor’s dedicated space was removed to allow him to get near enough to the microphone.
In consultation with Auditel Ltd, the company which supplies and maintains the audio-visual facilities in the Council Chamber, a bespoke hand-held device was made and wired in which allowed the Councillor to press the request to speak and voting buttons without having to try to reach across the desk in front of him.
The Council Chamber is hired out to external organisations. These changes ensure that it is accessible to all users.
For further information:
Contact Robert Sheppard, Head of Governance Services, 020 7361 2265 or [email protected]