Sue Peace is a woman with a mission - and a worthy one at that. Not only does she want to revolutionise access for disabled people in our public places, but she also wants to help save money in the process.
Peace joined Buro Happold before Christmas, becoming the first access officer to work for an engineering consultancy. It is a role she has taken to with tremendous zeal.
'It's a passion for me, not just a job. My philosophy is to make design for disabled people inclusive so that it becomes invisible,' she says.
Although not disabled herself, Peace has had close personal experience of the difficulties involved. She knew from an early age that she wanted to improve disabled access, but was somewhat ahead of her time.
'When I was at school I told my teachers what I wanted to do but was advised that no such job existed,' she recalls. A decade later, after a string of care jobs and a brief modelling career, she became one of the first access officers to be appointed in the UK.
In the last 15 years she has worked for a number of local authorities in Yorkshire on projects such as the re-development of Leeds city centre, the Royal Armouries and the Leeds United Elland Road stadium. But Peace says that she was often consulted only after design work had been finalised or once the project had been
'My view was that the best place for an access officer to be was in an engineering firm itself. It is less expensive to sort out the access arrangements at the beginning of the design,' she says.
Changing attitudes mean that people with disabilities are being more closely integrated into society. In 1995 this was backed by the Disability Discrimination Act, giving rights to employment and to
be served in public places. But part three of the Act will have the biggest impact on the construction industry, reckons Peace. It is likely to be phased in sometime before 2005, and will require physical access barriers to be removed by law - and expensive alterations to many buildings, she warns.
Peace's speciality is in emergency evacuation and she will be working closely with Buro Happold's fire engineering design and risk assessment department. And while many of the necessary special features will have to be built into the fabric of new buildings, Peace is also training staff to get the most out of existing structures.
'It's a question of being really aware of what the building can do to help disabled people,' she says.