Gateways guidance: 11. Preparing the physical environment


Medical schools and their universities should be planning continually for the reasonable adjustments they need to make, whether or not they have disabled students. They should anticipate the requirements of disabled people and the adjustments that may have to be made for them. This is particularly relevant in respect of buildings, whether they are owned, rented or leased. In all cases, buildings must be accessible for wheelchair users and others with mobility impairments.

In many cases, it is appropriate to ask a student whether they have any particular physical requirements and, if so, what adjustments may need to be made. If the need is not identified in advance, the medical school may fail in its duty to provide adjustments.

An example of an accessibility issue

The principles to be followed emerge clearly from the leading higher education case (Potter v Canterbury Christ Church University).

Craig Potter, a wheelchair user, graduated in 2004 at a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral. While other students were able to receive a handshake on the dais from the Chairman of Governors, he was greeted at the bottom of the steps because no ramp was provided to allow him access to the stage.

The fact that he was not greeted by the Chairman of Governors on the dais because he is a wheelchair user placed him at a substantial disadvantage. He was not able to participate fully and with dignity in the degree ceremony and so was awarded £4000 damages against the university by the court.

Audit of building accessibility

It would be appropriate to arrange a risk and access audit of premises and to draw up an access plan. By acting on the results of an audit, medical schools may reduce the likelihood of successful legal claims.

Physical features for review as part of an access audit will include:

  • steps
  • stairways
  • kerbs
  • exterior surfaces
  • paving
  • parking areas
  • building entrances
  • exits
  • emergency escape routes
  • internal and external doors
  • gates
  • toilets
  • washing facilities
  • lighting
  • ventilation
  • lifts
  • escalators
  • floor coverings
  • signs
  • furniture
  • temporary or movable items.

Risk assessment

Schools should:

  • review their risk assessment procedures
  • conduct risk assessment reviews of the environment.

The Health and Safety Executive provides a useful step-by-step guide to risk assessment.