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A ‘good practice guide’ for disabled access to new and refurbished buildings has been produced by a team of University of Ulster graduates.

And Disability Action are so impressed by the students’ work they plan to send the guide to architects, builders and others involved in the construction industry.

They hope it will increase awareness of their obligations to provide proper disability access.  The charity also intends to use it as part of the blueprint for their proposed Centre of Excellence at the former Ebrington Barracks in Derry.

Disability Action said the new guide, produced by four graduate students, will be a helpful tool for builders and planners in other developments.

After their summer graduation, young designers Helen Burnett from Newcastle, Duane Fitzsimons from Strangford, Louise Johnson from Lisburn and Natalie Smith from Newtownards signed up to a short architectural Professional Experience Course.

This course supports students experiencing difficulties in finding a post-grad placement, due to the current economic climate.

They were introduced to the Science Shop, a community research resource which allows students from a variety of disciplines at the University to work with community and voluntary groups throughout Northern Ireland.

As well as producing the guide, they were also asked to draw up their own architectural designs for the proposed Centre of Excellence and Disability Action were very impressed by the high standards achieved.

Ulster Lecturer in Architecture, Mike McQueen, said: “Normally our graduates would find a placement in a conventional architectural practice, to achieve recordable experience in order to obtain their professional qualification.

“But because of the recession a lot of practices have been paying off staff and as many are no longer taking on students there is a shortage of graduate places.

“This group of students were particularly interested in community engagement issues, so I started to look at initiatives which they could plug into.

“I had worked with the Science Shop before and I knew they were incredibly organised, working very successfully with students who are self motivated and have that entrepreneurial, self-starting ethos.

“I got in touch and we came up with several options, eventually deciding on Disability Action as a client.”

Claire Mulrone, Science Shop Administrative Manager, explained the students gave up their free time during the summer to complete the two-part project for the Professional Experience short course.

“Firstly, they had to work together as a team to develop a good practice guide for disabled access in the built environment,” she said

“The second challenge was to put forward their own interpretation of architectural drawings for a proposed new Disability Action Centre of Excellence which is to be built on the Ebrington site in Derry.

“It was a great opportunity to apply their knowledge in a practical way and gain additional experience. 

“The guide will be sent to architects, builders and people who are involved in redevelopment so that they are aware of their obligations to make their premises accessible to the disabled.”

Disability Action Access Manager, Orla McCann, congratulated the students on their efforts and said they were delighted to work with the Science Shop and the University of Ulster on this project. 

“As a direct result of the combined efforts of this group of students we have gained a valuable and much needed resource, which will help us to encourage best practice provision in the accessibility of the built environment,” she explained. 

“In addition, the students put what they had learned to the test in their individual designs for the proposed Centre of Excellence in Derry.

“Disability Action is determined that this Centre will be built and we have now got some innovative ideas and design features that we can include in the new building. 

“We wish the students luck as they continue with their studies and hope that they will carry and share their learning both in their academic and future professional lives as architects.”

The four students were in competition to produce the best architectural drawings for the proposed Disability Action Centre of Excellence and student Natalie Smith was the judges’ favourite.

Caption: (left – right) Louise Johnson, Helen Burnett and Duane Fitzsimons with Architecture lecturer Mike McQueen