A barrier - or not?

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Some physical barriers to access are obvious, like steps, gates or stiles. Others, like the gaps between the decking boards of a boardwalk, or the steepness of a gradient across a path surface, are more subtle. However, they are just as important to think about to ensure that as many people as possible are given chance to enjoy the outdoors.

gaps in decking

The Countryside for All standards, developed by the Fieldfare Trust through the BT Countryside for All Project, give specifications that should be reasonably considered for any path project. Not every path will be able to meet all these standards - the ground may be too steep, or the site too remote. However, it is still possible to think about keeping access open to a wide range of people. An accessibility survey should be part of any path project, and where it is not possible to meet full accessibility standards you can look at making what the Equality Act 2010 calls 'reasonable adjustments' that will make a big difference for everyone, not just for people with disabilities.

You should approach any path project with the philosophy of working to the 'least restrictive option'. For example, make paths as wide as possible, given the terrain. That will help anyone with a wheelchair or mobility scooter, but it will also mean that able-bodied people can walk or ride side by side with a companion. Keeping paths clear of vegetation growing in, from above, or from the side will help anyone walking with a stick, and it will also make the path more accessible and safer for everyone.

The Fieldfare Trust publish 'A Good Practice Guide to Countryside Access for Disabled People', available on CD, that gives guidelines on designing paths within the principles of least restrictive access.

© 2014 Paths for All - Registered Scottish Charity No: SC025535, Company Limited by Guarantee No: 168554 inc. 19 Sept 1996 at Companies House, Edinburgh