Having worked on many high profile projects in Victoria and beyond, disability consultant Equal Access Group provides a consulting service and a range of products throughout Australia and the world.
Managing Director Bruce Bromley has a background in construction, architectural, and project management, and formed the Equal Access Group in 2005. Mr Bromley spoke with us recently about the four different areas of the business, the range of services and sectors it offers and works within, and the new cloud-based travel database helping people with disabilities to navigate the tourism sector.
Everyone, everywhere, every time
“I formed Equal Access seventeen years ago,” Mr Bromley says. “Today we’ve got four parts in the Equal Access Group, the organisation continues to grow, and we consult nationally on a vast branch of projects.”
The key professional services the company provides take place in a number of different areas, one of the most important being emergency evacuation planning for people living with a disability, a space which is growing rapidly.
“We consult, certify, and register specialist disability accommodations under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). We do property management of specialist disability accommodation, but we’re finding an increase of requests for commercial property portfolio audits by organisations so they can determine what level of accessibility they have provided.”
This work is done for companies in accordance with Environmental, Social and Governance requirements. The company assesses properties and reports back about issues and recommendations on how accessibility can be improved.
“That’s to assist them should a staff member acquire a disability, or they choose to employ someone with a disability, and to meet client expectations so that major changes aren’t needed at that particular time, and they’re already prepared. It’s really about asking the question – is the space, building, product, or conveyance fit for purpose to meet the diversity of people with disability?”
The Equal Access Group is made up of four entities, each of which is passionate about their specialised fields. These entities are Equal Access, EvacuLife, SDA Consulting, and the most recent entity, Access and Safety.
“We’ve got Equal Access, which are disability access consultants. That consults primarily to the commercial, retail, hospitality, education, transport sectors to ensure accessibility is provided for people with disabilities. Compliance is critical for organisations to protect themselves from any litigation and also any accidents due to non-compliance.”
EvacuLife was formed around fifteen years ago, in response to a building code that fails to properly address evacuation for people with disability. The company started looking at the policy planning and equipment needed to get people with disability out of multi-storey buildings when lifts can’t be used. EvacuLife now sells a whole range of both commercial-type products, but also residential products for emergency evacuations.
“The third part of the business is SDA Consulting, which consults for specialist disability accommodation which has been provided by the Federal government under the NDIS. Lastly, we have Access and Safety, which sells a range of accessibility and safety products, both for home and the workplace.”
The company’s expertise and personalised level of service set it clearly apart from its competitors. Many of the company’s products are unique, particularly the emergency evacuation planning for people with disabilities, which is getting a lot more awareness and prompting organisations to recognise their liabilities in addressing the issue.
“We’ve developed our own cloud-based auditing system, which allows us to audit buildings, infrastructure, transport, and facilities. We’re the only company that has such a system, and it allows us to audit considerably faster than old-school, manual techniques, which other practices use, and it then provides a more professional report to clients.”
One of the company’s major clients is Shayher Group, which purchased the old Pentridge Prison in Coburg, Victoria. Equal Access Group has been working with the group for over a decade at the site.
“It’s an old bluestone prison, under very strong heritage controls. It’s been undergoing various redevelopments, from apartments through to a new retail cinema precinct, a recently opened hotel and service apartments, and we’ve just finished working on a new museum and wine storage facility. It’s a magnificent facility.”
Other projects in progress include work with the Victoria state government on multiple level crossing removal projects, and the new Brisbane ferries. There are also several projects in Melbourne, including the North East Link Tunnel and infrastructure, a major upgrade to the ED at the Royal Children’s Hospital, and work on the new X’Trapolis trains.
“[In terms of growth], it’s really just managing the demand,” Mr Bromley explains. “We’ve thought recently about opening interstate offices, but staffing is an issue, trying to get qualified staff in this space, where there is no real formal learning process available to equip individuals, so most of the learning is in a workplace environment. The way transport is, we find travelling is an easy way to service most of our client’s anyway.”
The biggest industry issue is still to do with growth in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdowns in Victoria and blowouts in construction costs meant that many projects were put on hold during the pandemic years.
“Now they’ve been released into the workplace, and when we speak with architects and engineers, everyone is really struggling now to keep up with demand. I think builders are having the same issues, but just trying to maintain those expected delivery timeframes to clients is a struggle at times.”
One area that the industry is still catching up on is Emergency Evacuation Planning. Australia’s building code still doesn’t provide any prescriptive guidance on how buildings should be designed to provide life safety features for people with disabilities.
“On the positive side of things, we’re seeing an increase in accessible tourism. We’re actually part of a consortium that has developed an accessible travel database called Go Access Travel, that’s due to launch in the 2023 financial year. We’ve just completed live testing and have received positive feedback from providers. The system, by not using a compliance model, can be used both nationally and internationally.”
This has allowed accommodation and activity providers to perform self-assessments on their services and facilities, information which is stored in a cloud-based environment. It allows those providers to present information of the facility to give people with disabilities the tools to make an educated decision on the standard of accessibility.
Passionate and committed to supporting the rights of all people, including those with disability, Equal Access Group ensures homes and workplaces are accessible. Find out more about the Equal Access Group by visiting www.equalaccessgroup.com.au.
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