Updated 2011. See note below on Status of these notes
- Status of these notes
- Introduction and acknowledgments
- How this advice can assist
- Consultation with people with disabilities and access experts
- Advisory notes on access to premises
- Appendix A
- Appendix B
- Appendix C
These Advisory Notes on Access to Premises were initially developed in 1997 before work commenced on a disability standard on access to premises.
Disability (Access to Premises – buildings) Standards 2010 (Premises Standards) have now been completed and commenced operation on 1 May 2011. The Premises Standards include an Access Code for buildings which set out minimum technical deemed-to-satisfy requirements. Compliance with these deemed-to-satisfy requirements ensures compliance with the general requirements of the DDA on matters covered by the standards.
This means that for those matters covered in both the Advisory Notes and the Premises Standards, such as the design and construction of ramps and stairways, accessible toilets and hearing augmentation systems the appropriate reference point for minimum requirements is now the Premises Standards. The Premises Standards can be found at http://www.ag.gov.au/PremisesStandards
A Guideline on the application of the Premises Standards prepared by this Commission can be found at http://www.hreoc.gov.au/disability_rights/buildings/access_to_premises.html
Some issues that may give rise to barriers to access within buildings, such as some fitout features, fixtures and furnishings and discrimination by staff are not covered by the Premises Standards so this Advisory Note may still provide useful information to those responsible for buildings seeking to provide the best access possible.
These advisory notes are issued by the Australian Human Rights Commission under section 67(1)(k) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992.
The notes represent views about the meaning and application of section 23 of the Disability Discrimination Act. Although prepared with advice from people with expertise in access issues, the notes should not be taken to represent the views of any person or organisation other than the Commission or the Disability Discrimination Commissioner.
The Disability Discrimination Commissioner would like to thank all the people who commented on the June 1997 edition and would particularly like to thank John Deshon, Architect, Brisbane for his assistance in the development of the first edition of the advisory notes.
These advisory notes were developed specifically to assist people responsible for new or proposed premises and consist of:
- this introduction explaining the purpose and status of the advisory notes;
- the advisory notes themselves;
- Appendix A providing information on the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA);
- Appendix B providing information on the relationship between the DDA and the Building Code of Australia (BCA);
- Appendix C providing information on existing premises, including heritage buildings.
The Disability Discrimination Commissioner developed the advisory notes in response to requests from people who design, build, own, manage, lease, operate, regulate and use premises for information about their responsibilities and rights under section 23 of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). Section 23 of the DDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with a disability, or their associates, in relation to access to, and use of, premises that the public enter or use.
People who discriminate against people with disabilities are faced with the possibility of a complaint being made against them. It is possible to defend a complaint by showing that providing equal access would result in an unjustifiable hardship. (For more information on the DDA, a definition of 'premises' and 'unjustifiable hardship' see Appendix A.)
Complying with the Building Code of Australia, or other local planning regulations such as Development Control Plans, does not necessarily mean premises will comply with the requirements of the DDA (See Appendix B for a discussion on why).
If a complaint of discrimination is made the Disability Discrimination Commissioner attempts to conciliate an agreement between the two parties. If this is not possible the complaint is referred to a formal hearing of the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission).
It is only after a thorough investigation of all the relevant issues, such as those listed in Appendix A, that a specific decision would be made by the Commission about what would be an unjustifiable hardship in any individual case.
Because of this the Commissioner can only offer advice about what levels of access may reduce the chances of a successful complaint being made.
The most common questions the Commission is asked about access to premises are:
"What are the range of access issues I need to consider to ensure access for people with different types of disability?"
"What level of access should be provided to meet the requirements of the DDA?"
These advisory notes aim to assist people to answer those questions.
First, they provide a checklist of all the issues (or elements) the Commission believes should be considered when designing new (proposed) premises to ensure access for people with different types of disability. These can be found in sections 5.1 through to 5.24.
Second, in each of the above sections the advisory notes provide a number of 'Reference points and notes' to assist people who are responsible for premises to better understand the design options open to them when trying to achieve equitable access to and use of premises.
Comments on the first edition of the advisory notes suggested some people felt compliance with the specifications referred to in the notes was a legal requirement. These advisory notes are not regulations or 'deemed-to-satisfy' building requirements and do not have the force of law. They have been prepared by the Commissioner to assist people to understand their already existing responsibilities and rights under the DDA.
People who design, build, own, manage, lease, operate, regulate and use premises already have responsibilities and rights under the DDA. The DDA states that failure to provide equal access is unlawful, unless to do so would impose an unjustifiable hardship.
Until such time as there are nationally negotiated DDA Standards in the area of access to premises (a DDA Standard is not the same as Australian Standards (AS) - for information on DDA Standards see Appendix B), those responsible for premises have to make their own decisions about what, in their particular circumstances, amounts to access at a level sufficient to meet their responsibilities under the DDA.The Commission fully recognises the difficulty this causes both for those responsible for premises and those who use them, and supports the broad community and industry call for harmonisation of the DDA and Building Code regimes through making of disability standards.
Those responsible for premises can best provide access by making it a central part of a design brief. Decisions to not provide effective and equitable access increase the likelihood of successful complaints.
In making decisions about access the Commissioner advises people to consider the following:
- these advisory notes;
- the new Building Code of Australia (BCA).
The new BCA is due for release in mid 1998. Until the release of the new BCA the most relevant reference point (as of March 1998) is contained in a regulation document RD 97/01 - Provisions for People with Disabilities (RD97/01) available from the Australian Building Codes Board, GPO Box 9839, Canberra, ACT 2601. Tel. 06 213 7298, Fax. 06 213 7287. The new BCA will also be available from the above address. See Endnote for February 1999 Update
The proposals in the new BCA are designed to make it more consistent with the DDA and have been developed following consultation with interested parties. This has included extensive work with Standards Australia on revising various Australian Standards (AS) including AS 1428.1 which will in future include some of the specifications previously found in AS 1428.2. When details of those parts of AS 1428.2 transferred to AS 1428.1 are available these advisory notes will be revised to reflect those changes.
Compliance with a new BCA will improve access and help reduce the likelihood of complaints. There are however some proposals being put forward in the new BCA which do not have the support of all parties involved in negotiations. In addition there are a number of issues concerning access which are not covered by the BCA, but which could give rise to complaints. (See Appendix B for a full discussion of this issue).
Neither the proposed new BCA nor these advisory notes represent the final word in the debate about access. All that can be said is that the better the level of access provided the less likely it is that premises will be subject to complaints.
Consultation with people with a range of disabilities and access experts is an essential part of achieving the objects of the DDA. These advisory notes should be seen as complementing appropriate consultation processes in the design and management of buildings and other premises.
of key terms
5.2 Continuous accessible path of travel
5.5 Stairways, escalators and moving pathways
5.6 Approaches and entrances
5.9 Sanitary facilities
5.10 Fixed seating venues
5.11 Ground and floor surfaces
5.12 Listening systems for hearing augmentation
5.14 Furniture and fitments
5.15 Symbols and signs
5.16 Warnings and alarms
5.18 Background sound levels
5.19 Public address systems
5.20 Residential buildings other than homes
5.21 Emergency egress
5.22 Discrimination arising from management and maintenance practices
5.23 Discrimination by staff
5.24 Use of chemicals and materials
Each section of these advisory notes identifies an issue (or element), such as carparks, controls, ramps or signage, which should be considered by people who design, build, own, lease, operate or manage premises when providing access for people with different types of disability.
The first part of each section states a broad outcome that people should be trying to achieve if they wish to provide equitable access to all users.The Commission recognises that access requirements for individuals can be very different and that the broad outcome statement is a generalised aim and has to be read in the context of the provision for unjustifiable hardship in the DDA.
The second part of each section, under the heading 'Reference points and notes', provides information on a range of specifications that should be considered, along with the proposals in the new BCA, when making decisions about access issues. (See the section on 'How this advice can assist' above which gives information on how to get a copy of the BCA).
Continuous accessible path of travel
These advisory notes define a continuous accessible path of travel as an uninterrupted route to or within premises or buildings and providing access to all services and facilities. It should not incorporate any step, stairway, turnstile, revolving door, escalator, hazard or other impediment which would prevent it from being safely negotiated by people with disabilities.
The definition of premises in the DDA extends to the whole of the built environment. It includes:
- existing buildings, including heritage buildings;
- new or proposed buildings;
- transport systems;
- car parks, sports venues, pathways, public gardens and parks.
Although the definition of premises in the DDA includes existing buildings these advisory notes are aimed only at new (proposed) buildings. There is however a section in Appendix C concerning existing buildings.
(The notes specifically relate to those buildings that come under Class 1b, and Class 3 through to Class 10 buildings and do not address questions of access requirements for Class 1a buildings (a detached house, terrace or similar) or Class 2 buildings (a building containing 2 or more sole-occupancy units) although legal opinion suggests that the common areas associated with Class 2 buildings may in some circumstances be subject to complaint if they are not accessible.)
5.2.1 People who design, build, own, lease, operate or manage premises should achieve equitable access for people with disabilities by ensuring all parts of premises to which the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use are connected by a network of continuous accessible paths of travel.
5.2.2 A continuous accessible path of travel should extend to all amenities and levels in a building to which the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use, including basements and carparks.
5.2.3 A continuous accessible path of travel should be the most commonly used and direct path of travel. If for any reason this is not possible clear signage of the alternative route should be provided.
5.2.4 Managers and operators of premises should ensure management practices are in place to maintain a continuous accessible path of travel.
Reference points and notes
5.2.5 For information on design features relating to a continuous accessible path of travel, people who are responsible for premises should consider the specifications covering aspects of a continuous accessible path of travel in the new BCA as well as the following specific clauses found in AS 1428.2:
- circulation spaces (Clause 6.2)
- width of path (Clause 6.4)
- passing spaces (Clause 6.5a)
- changes in level (Clause 6.6)
- walkways ramps and landings (Clause 8)
- ground and floor surfaces (Clause 9)
- handrails and grabrails (Clause 10)
- doorways and doors (Clause 11)
- lifts (Clause 12)
- tactile ground surface indicators (Clause 18.1)
- street furniture (Clause 27)
- lighting (Clause 19)
- gateways and checkouts (Clause 28)
5.2.6 For specifications relating to the provision of resting places and seating along continuous accessible paths of travel consider the note attached to AS 1428.2 Clause 7(e).
5.2.7 Note that the needs of ambulant people with mobility disabilities who require public seating higher than the general 450 mm should also be addressed. See Note 1 in AS 1428.2 Clause 27.2 which refers to a height of 520 mm.
5.2.8 For specifications relating to design features to ensure access for blind people or people who have a vision impairment consider AS 1428.4 in conjunction with AS 1428.2 Clause 18.1. (Excessive use of tactile indicators at every minor change in direction such as entry to individual offices spaces is not considered appropriate - see 5.2.9 below).
5.2.9 Note that as part of the Australian Building Codes Board review of the Building Code of Australia the ABCB has proposed that the use of tactile ground indicators should be limited to potential hazardous situations such as stairs, ramps, escalators, boarding points and platform edges. Details of the ABCB proposals are available in the new BCA .
5.2.10 Clearly topographical features such as steep hills and the features of facilities such as bush walking tracks may reduce the capacity to achieve a continuous accessible path of travel throughout the whole route.
5.2.11 Note that passing spaces should be provided on a continuous accessible path of travel when that path is not wide enough to allow for people to pass as indicated in AS 1428.2 Clause 6.5a. The frequency of provision of passing spaces should be considered in the context of the location and purpose of the path.
5.2.12 Note that, as part of the Australian Building Codes Board review of the Building Code of Australia, Standards Australia has been asked to undertake further research on the dimensions of a 'wheelchair footprint'. This research will have implications for future consultations on issues such as circulation spaces and width of walkways, ramps and landings.
5.2.13 Note the need to ensure that accessible facilities along a continuous accessible path of travel, including entrances, sanitary facilities, egress routes, lifts and hearing augmentation systems where they exist, are clearly signposted.
5.2.14 Note that the DDA requires access be provided to all levels of buildings and all facilities and services operating from them, unless doing so would impose an unjustifiable hardship. This includes all public facilities such as lounges, TV rooms, eating areas, bars and viewing areas in hotels/motels and restaurants. (See also section 5.7 Lifts). The new BCA suggests some very specific circumstances under which access in some small two and three storey buildings might be limited.
5.3.1 Elements in the streetscape, including those at the property alignment/boundary, should be designed and arranged to provide a continuous accessible path of travel.
5.3.2 These elements include:
- kerb ramps
- gutter crossings
- road cambers
- footpath crossfalls
- gradient of path of travel
- street furniture
- hazards obstructing the path of travel, including overhead obstacles
- bus stops and shelters
- traffic signals at pedestrian crossings
- pontoon wharves
- signage and directional information
5.3.3 Features such as stairways, escalators, street furniture, landscaping and moving pathways, where they exist, should be located adjacent to and should not obstruct a continuous accessible path of travel.
Reference points and notes
5.3.4 Note that the responsibility for most public infrastructure rests with a public authority. It is, however, increasingly common for developers to be required to install or renew infrastructure.
Whoever is responsible for the construction and/or management of an infrastructure element is likely to be responsible for its accessibility.
5.3.5 For specifications relating to ramps, kerb ramps, crossings consider AS 1428.2 Clause 8.
5.3.6 For specifications relating to street furniture and possible obstructions to an accessible path of travel consider AS 1428.2 Clause 27 and AS 1428.4.
5.3.7 For specifications relating to ground and floor surfaces on a continuous accessible path of travel consider AS 1428.2 Clause 9.
5.3.8 For specifications relating to symbols and signs consider AS 1428.2 Clauses 16 and 17. (Excessive use of signs at every minor change in direction such as entry to individual offices spaces is not considered appropriate).
5.3.9 Note the need for colour contrast in signs and warnings.
5.3.10 For specifications relating to the provision of tactile ground surface indicators consider AS 1428.4 in conjunction with relevant parts of AS 1428.2 Clause 18.1. (See 5.2.9 above).
5.3.11 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of infrastructure as proposed in the new BCA.
5.4.1 Carparks should contain car parking space(s) designated for vehicles used by people with disabilities.
5.4.2 Designated accessible parking spaces should be located at the closest point to each accessible entrance. There should be adequate signage to identify the accessible space and the location of accessible entrances.
5.4.3 There should be a continuous accessible path of travel from each such space to the closest accessible public entrance.
Reference points and notes
5.4.4 For specifications relating to accessible car spaces, including vertical clearance specifications consider AS 2890.1.
5.4.5 Note that provision should be made to ensure adequate vertical clearance from the street, through the entrance to the car park and to any accessible parking spaces within a carpark.
5.4.6 Note that the percentage of designated spaces for vehicles used by people with disabilities is one of the issues addressed in the new BCA. There is however currently no agreement with the disability advocacy sector on the proposals in the new BCA and this issue is likely to be subject to further negotiation and research.
5.5.1 Stairways, escalators and moving pathways/travelators should be accessible for all those people who wish to and are permitted to use them.
5.5.2 Stairways, escalators and moving pathways/travelators, where they exist, should not be part of a continuous accessible path of travel and should be located adjacent to the continuous accessible path of travel.
Reference points and notes
5.5.3 For specifications relating to stairways, including reference to open risers, consider AS 1428.2 Clauses 13 and 18.1.
5.5.4 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of stairways as proposed in the new BCA.
5.6.1 All public entrances should be accessible to all users.
Reference points and notes
5.6.2 For specifications relating to doors and circulation spaces at doorways consider AS 1428.2 Clause 11.
5.6.3 For specifications relating to controls on doors consider AS 1428.2 Clauses 23.2 and 23.3.
5.6.4 Note the need to ensure doormats do not obstruct a continuous accessible path of travel recessed doormats can create uneven surfaces that cause access difficulties.
5.6.5 Note the need to have a level landing between the door and the end of any ramp.
5.6.6 Note that heavy doors should be avoided as they are difficult for people to operate and that there should be no revolving doors on a continuous accessible path of travel.
5.6.7 Note that section 23 of the DDA refers to access requirements where the 'public or a section of the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use..'. Access requirements could be different for some entrances, such as loading docks, plant room, transformer enclosures etc. where a specific purpose is being served and where the public would not normally be allowed or entitled to go. It should be noted however that the access rights of employees are covered by the DDA section 15 and failure to provide equitable access for employees with disabilities may result in a complaint under that section.
5.6.8 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of approaches and entrances as proposed in the new BCA.
5.7.1 All passenger lifts and other forms of vertical transport should serve all users and allow for independent operation by the user where operation is from within the lift.
Reference points and notes
5.7.2 Note in the case of staff operated lifts independent operation may not always be required.
5.7.3 Note that to ensure equity of access and safety information concerning level and direction of travel in lifts and lift lobbies should be both visible and audible. In the case of audible information verbal indication of travel direction (eg 'up' 'down') is preferred to non-verbal audible indication - see AS 1735.12 Clause 8.6.3 (b). Announcements should be available at all landings to convey direction of travel, ie 'up' or 'down'. Announcements of the position of the lift car should inform the user within the lift car.
5.7.4 For specifications relating to lifts consider AS 1428.2 Clause 12. Note that AS 1735 parts 7, 12, 14 and 16 are currently under review.
5.7.5 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of lifts and access to levels in a building in the new BCA.
5.8.1 All ramps should be safe and convenient for all users.
Reference points and notes
5.8.2 Note that ramps should not be relied upon as the prime or only method of moving from one level to another where use of the ramp would result in undue length of a continuous path of travel and consequent fatigue. There is no national specification concerning when a lift or other automated means of vertical transport should be utilised to change levels exceeding a certain height.
5.8.3 For specifications relating to ramps consider AS 1428.2 Clause 8.
5.8.4 Note that any camber or cross fall should be kept to the absolute minimum necessary to ensure drainage and should never exceed 1:40.
5.8.5 Consideration should also be given to any design features and specifications, where they exist, covering aspects of ramps in the new BCA.
5.9.1 Where there is only one sanitary facility provided it should be suitable for use by people with disabilities.
5.9.2 Where there are multiple sanitary facilities at any location at least one should be suitable for use by people with disabilities.
Reference points and notes
5.9.3 Note that the first accessible sanitary facility should be a unisex facility to ensure a person requiring assistance may use a facility with assistance from someone of the opposite gender.
5.9.4 For specifications relating to sanitary facilities for use by people with disabilities consider AS 1428.2 Clause 15.
5.9.5 Note that some ambulant people with disabilities may find the standard cubicle size in a block of cubicles too small and the height of WC pan seats too low. Where multiple sanitary facilities are provided consider providing a cubicle with specifications found in AS 1428.15 (e) with a higher seat 520 - 560 mm. Whilst research is to be undertaken on specifications relating to accessible facilities for ambulant people with disabilities the ABCB has proposed such facilities in each toilet block where there is more than one facility.
5.9.6 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of sanitary facilities as proposed in the new BCA.
5.10.1 A range of choices of seating position in terms of location, level, price and sightlines should be provided for all users.
5.10.2 A continuous accessible path of travel should be provided to the seating spaces and seats identified for use by people with disabilities and from those seats to points of egress and amenities such as toilets.
5.10.3 A non discriminatory booking system should be established and ticket retail outlets should be accessible.
Reference points and notes
5.10.4 The design, and management of fixed seating venues is crucial to ensuring equal access, amenity and choice. As with all aspects of access provision, it is recommended that consultation takes place with access experts and representative organisations from the disability sector.
5.10.5 Note that design of fixed seating venues should also provide for continuous accessible paths of travel to fixed seating which may be used by people with mobility aids or who may wish to transfer from wheelchairs.
5.10.6 Note issues relating to 'Listening systems for hearing augmentation' in section 5.12 below.
5.10.7 For specifications relating to seating spaces described in 5.10.2 above consider AS 1428.1 Clauses 15.1 (c) and (e) and 15.3. Note that providing access at this level will allow for use by 80% of people who use wheelchairs. Increased size would permit a higher percentage use.
5.10.8 For specifications relating to podiums and stage areas consider AS 1428.2 Clause 26.2. Access to the podium should be via a continuous accessible path of travel, which may include the use of ramps or automated vertical transport systems.
5.10.9 For venues without fixed seating, but where removable seating is being provided, consideration should be given to arranging seating to allow for equitable access.
5.10.10 Note that a non-discriminatory booking system would allow for allocated spaces not in use to be used for removable seating.
5.10.11 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of fixed seating venues the new BCA.
5.11.1 Ground and floor surfaces should be safe and traversable by all users.
Reference points and notes
5.11.2 For specifications relating to ground and floor surfaces on a continuous accessible path of travel consider AS 1428.2 Clause 9 and AS 1428.1 Supplement Clause C13.
5.11.3 Note the need to ensure safety through the use of slip resistant surfaces.
5.11.4 Note the need to avoid the use of spongy underlay where carpet is used.
5.12.1 A hearing augmentation system should be available in assembly buildings, and in all places where sound amplification is provided or public announcements are made.
5.12.2 Areas where augmentation is provided should be identified by the symbol for hearing access. Information should also be provided on the type of augmentation and whether it is turned on or off.
Reference points and notes
5.12.3 For specifications relating to hearing augmentation, consider AS 1428.2 Clause 21.2. 5.12.4 For specifications relating to selection of systems, consider AS 1428.2 Clause 21.3.
5.12.5 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of hearing augmentation in the new BCA.
5.12.6 Note the need to ensure that if only part of an assembly area is covered by a hearing augmentation system that part must also include some access for people who use a wheelchair who may also require access to a hearing augmentation system.
5.13.1 All users should be able to access and use any controls used by the public, such as door handles, power switches, card slots, keys pads and buttons.
Reference points and notes
5.13.2 For specifications relating to controls consider AS 1428.2 Clause 23.
5.13.3 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of controls in the new BCA where relevant.
5.14.1 All users should be able to access and use built-in furniture and fitments which should not infringe on a continuous accessible path of travel.
5.14.2 Note that the following list is only a guide - not necessarily inclusive - to built-in furniture and fitments which may be found in a building or the surrounding built environment, such as in parks, to which this provision should apply:
- reception counters
- gateways and checkouts
- public telephones
- drinking fountains
- vending machines (including automatic teller machines)
- tea and coffee making facilities
- work, reading and writing surfaces
- security devices
- bus shelters
- ticket validation gateways
- vista/viewing platforms
- fishing platforms
- built-in computerised information systems
- library shelves
- planter boxes
- public BBQ's
- post boxes
- tables and seating
- refuse receptacles
Reference points and notes
5.14.3 For specifications relating to built-in furniture and fitments consider AS 1428.2 Clauses 23, 24, 27, 28, 29, and 31. Where an element of built in furniture or fitment is not prescribed, consider the requirements of AS 1428.2 for similar built-in furniture and fitments.
5.14.4 Note that in premises such as shops and supermarkets management practices could be introduced to ensure people with disabilities can access stock normally kept on higher shelves.
5.14.5 Note that where facilities such as telephones are provided consideration should be given to ensuring access to sound amplification and Telephone typewriter (TTY) services.
5.14.6 Note the need to ensure where fixed tables and seating is provided in parks or around picnic areas space is provided for people using wheelchairs to access the table.
5.14.7 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of furniture and fitments in the new BCA where relevant.
5.15.1 Signs and symbols should inform all users.
Reference points and notes
5.15.2 For specifications relating to symbols and signs consider AS 1428.2 Clauses 16 and 17. (Excessive use of signs at every minor change in direction such as entry to individual offices spaces is not considered appropriate).
5.15.3 Note the need for colour contrast of numbers letters or symbols from their background.
5.15.4 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of symbols and signs in the new BCA where relevant.
5.16.1 Warnings and alarms should alert and inform all users.
Reference points and notes
5.16.2 For specifications relating to warnings and alarms covering audible, visual and auxiliary systems consider AS 1428.2 Clauses 18.2 and 3.
5.16.3 For specifications relating to the provision of tactile ground surface indicators consider AS 1428.4 in conjunction with the relevant parts of AS 1428.2 Clause 18.1. (See 5.2.9 above).
5.16.4 Note that in the case of audible alarms verbal alarms are preferred to non-verbal audible alarms.
5.16.5 Note the need to ensure visual and tactile vibration alarm systems are available in a range of hotel/motel rooms.
5.16.6 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of warnings and alarms in the new BCA where relevant.
5.17.1 Illumination levels should serve all users.
Reference points and notes
5.17.2 For specifications relating to lighting consider AS 1428.2 Clause 19.
5.17.3 Note that lighting that tends to flicker should be avoided.
5.17.4 Note that to facilitate lip reading and/or interpreting clear, even illumination is required for the faces of both the speaker and the interpreter.
5.17.5 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of lighting as proposed in the new BCA where relevant.
5.18.1 Wherever possible background sound levels should not impede hearing.
Reference points and notes
5.18.2 For specifications relating to maximum background sound levels consider AS 1428.2 Clause 20.
5.19.1 Ensure that public address systems serve all users.
5.19.2 Ensure that a hearing augmentation system and a visual communication system supplement public address systems.
Reference points and notes
5.19.3 For specifications relating to the height of letters, illumination, location and background contrast consider AS 1428.2 Clause 17.
5.19.4 For specifications relating to hearing augmentation systems refer to section 5.12 above.
5.19.5 Note the need to ensure that PA speaker systems are clear and intelligible.
5.19.6 Consideration should also be given to the design features and specifications covering aspects of public address systems as proposed in the new BCA where relevant.
5.20.1 The term "Residential buildings other than homes" includes:
- a boarding house, guest house, hostel, lodging-house or backpackers accommodation;
- a residential part of a hotel or motel;
- a residential part of a school;
- specific purpose accommodation for older people, people with disabilities or children;
- a residential part of a health care building which accommodates staff.
5.20.2 All users should have access to and within individual accessible accommodation in residential buildings other than homes.
5.20.3 Aim to provide the same degree of choice of individual accessible accommodation in terms of location and price to all users.
Reference points and notes
5.20.4 Consideration should also be given to the design features, specifications and rate of provision of accessible accommodation facilities as proposed in the new BCA.
5.20.5 Note issues relating to circulation space (see 5.1 above) and furniture and fitments (see 5.14 above) should be considered in the design, layout and management of accommodation.
5.21.1 All users should be provided with a means of egress from premises to a place of safety.
5.21.2 People with disabilities should be provided with the same level of protection as other premises users or building occupants.
Reference points and notes
5.21.3 Management practices concerning egress for people with a disability are a vital part of achieving protection.
5.21.4 Note that the Australian Building Codes Board review of the Building Code of Australia is discussing this issue and has proposed:
- Places of refuge be considered as a way of achieving this protection.
- Designers be provided with options for developing cost effective solutions.
- Existing spaces such as lift lobbies or toilets may be used as all or part of a safe refuge.
A place of refuge is defined as a place which offers protection from a fire (or other) hazard for people with disabilities while awaiting assistance to evacuate.
Options for consideration when designing for egress are:
- equal independent access to all required egress; or
- independent access to a place of refuge from which later evacuation is possible without entering the area that was involved in fire or other emergencies; or
- a combination of both.
Issues being considered by the ABCB include:
Location of place of refuge to allow for later evacuation without entering
2. Fire ratings for places of refuge.
3. Dimensions of places of refuge, exits and paths of travel to places of refuge.
4. Location and type of latches on doors in places of refuge.
5. Travel distances to places of refuge.
6. Signage in relation to locating places of refuge.
7. Exiting from places of refuge.
8. Communications from places of refuge.
Further research is being undertaken on the proposals for egress found in RD 97/01 and it is likely egress issues will be addressed in a further variation to the BCA in 1999.
Inadequate or inappropriate management, maintenance and housekeeping practices can make otherwise accessible premises inaccessible. It is not enough to design and build for access, there are many instances where a failure to effectively manage and maintain access features can lead to significant discriminatory barriers. For example:
- use of accessible toilets as storage areas or multipurpose rooms where fixtures inhibit circulation space;
- allowing gradual deterioration of lighting levels;
- locking of accessible toilets or lifts at any time when premises are still in use;
- allowing shrubs beside pathways or overhanging trees to become overgrown;
- allowing surfaces to become dangerously worn or slippery;
- allowing signage to deteriorate
Access to premises is not solely concerned with technical specifications. A failure on the part of staff to respond equitably and appropriately to the requirements of people with disabilities can lead to significant discriminatory barriers. If staff are not adequately trained in the management of premises or in customer relations they could act in a way that effectively denies a person with a disability access to, and use of, premises. This could result in complaints of discrimination being lodged.
People who own, lease, operate and manage premises may be liable if staff behave in a discriminatory way unless they can show they have exercised due diligence and taken reasonable precautions to avoid discrimination occurring. They should consider the following strategies for addressing possible discrimination by staff against people with disabilities:
- make all relevant staff aware of the need to avoid discrimination. Depending on the nature of the enterprise, this might include issuing a formal policy statement on compliance with anti-discrimination law and more direct advice to staff;
- take reasonable measures to give staff sufficient information and expertise to make services and facilities available in a non-discriminatory way. This may include the provision of formal training;
- establish and promote effective complaints handling procedures regarding discrimination and ensure that these complaint procedures are accessible to people with disabilities and appropriately advertised.
Use of chemicals and materials
A growing number of people report sensitivity to chemicals used in the building, maintenance and operation of premises, in some cases to a level making the premises effectively inaccessible to them. People who own, lease, operate and manage premises should consider the following issues to eliminate or minimise reactions to chemicals::
- the selection of building, cleaning and maintenance chemicals and materials, in accordance with relevant environmental and occupational health and safety regulations and established standards;
- provision of adequate ventilation and ensuring all fresh air intakes are clear of possible sources of pollution such as exhaust fumes from garages;
- minimising use of air fresheners and pesticides.
The DDA is a Federal anti-discrimination law. Section 3 of the DDA sets out its objects:
- to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of disability;
- to ensure, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as the rest of the community; and
- to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the principle that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community.
The DDA covers a wide range of areas including employment, education, sport and recreation, the provision of goods, services and facilities, accommodation and access to premises. All levels of government, businesses, trade unions, non-government organisations and individuals have responsibilities under the DDA. The law seeks to stop discrimination against people with any form of disability including physical, intellectual, sensory, psychiatric, neurological, learning, disfigurement or the presence in the body of a disease causing organism.
Section 5 of the DDA expresses the general principle that discrimination occurs when a person with a disability is treated less favourably than a person without a disability would be treated in the same or similar circumstances. The DDA is concerned therefore with equity and human dignity.
Section 4 of the DDA provides the following definition:
- a structure, building, aircraft, vehicle or vessel; and
- a place (whether enclosed or built on or not); and
- a part of premises (including premises of a kind referred to in paragraph (a) or (b).
The DDA covers existing premises, including heritage buildings, those under construction and future premises. The definition includes not only buildings, but also anything in the built environment including car parks, sports fields, parks, pathways and transport systems.
People who believe they have been discriminated against because of their disability may make a complaint to the Commission. The Disability Discrimination Commissioner attempts to resolve these complaints by conciliation, however if conciliation is not possible a complaint may be referred to the Commission for a formal hearing and a decision.
Section 23 of the DDA states:
23. (1) It is unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on the ground of the other person's disability or a disability of any of that other person's associates:
- by refusing to allow the other person access to, or the use of, any premises that the public or a section of the public is entitled or allowed to enter or use (whether for payment or not); or
- in the terms or conditions on which the first-mentioned person is prepared to allow the other person access to, or the use of, any such premises; or
- in relation to the provision of means of access to such premises; or
- by refusing to allow the other person the use of any facilities in such premises that the public or a section of the public is entitled or allowed to use (whether for payment or not); or
- in the terms or conditions on which the first-mentioned person is prepared to allow the other person the use of any such facilities; or
- by requiring the other person to leave such premises or cease to use such facilities.
(2) This section does not render it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the ground of the person's disability in relation to the provision of access to premises if:
- the premises are so designed or constructed as to be inaccessible to a person with a disability; and
- any alteration to the premises to provide such access would impose unjustifiable hardship on the person who would have to provide that access.
Section 23 provides a defence of "unjustifiable hardship". A person or organisation may claim that providing a particular level of access would be technically impossible, impose major difficulties or involve unreasonable costs.
Examples of possible areas of discrimination that could result in a complaint by a person with a disability, their associates or representatives include:
- failure to provide equitable physical access to a building or the different levels of a building
- inadequate signage for a person with a vision impairment using facilities within a building
- failure to ensure facilities such as vending machines or counters within buildings are accessible or usable by people with a disability
- failure to provide visual indicators of emergency situations such as evacuations
- failure to provide suitable parking facilities for vehicles used by people with disabilities
- failure to provide a clear and safe access path in a building or on a pathway
- requiring a person with a mobility disability gain access through a distant side entrance
- failure to provide equal amenity to people who have disabilities through inadequate management practices
- failure to provide hearing augmentation systems in an auditorium that has a sound amplification system
- failure to provide non-discriminatory booking systems in theatres.
As indicated earlier in these notes, section 23 of the DDA allows discrimination where to do otherwise would impose unjustifiable hardship. Unjustifiable hardship is explained in section 11 of the DDA:
11. For the purposes of this Act, in determining what constitutes unjustifiable hardship, all relevant circumstances of the particular case are to be taken into account including:
- the nature of the benefit or detriment likely to accrue or be suffered by any persons concerned; and
- the effect of the disability of a person concerned; and
- the financial circumstances and the estimated amount of expenditure required to be made by the person claiming unjustifiable hardship; and
- in the case of the provision of services, or the making available of facilities - an action plan given to the Commission under section 64.
Where equitable and dignified access to, and use of, premises has not been provided people with disabilities are entitled to complain. In those circumstances, a defence of unjustifiable hardship may be available to the respondent. Circumstances relevant to unjustifiable hardship may include:
- technical limits;
- topographical restrictions;
- the effect, both positive and negative, on other people of providing the required level of access, for example, people delivering goods, people with prams or trolleys and the staff;
- safety, design and construction issues;
- the benefit for people with disabilities; and
- the costs involved in providing access.
The Commission is from time to time asked for its opinion of what constitutes unjustifiable hardship. It is not possible to make a general statement about unjustifiable hardship that would apply in all cases. What would be an unjustifiable hardship to one person or organisation may not be for another.
The provisions of section 11 require assessment on a case-by-case basis and the Commission can only determine what amounts to unjustifiable hardship following a formal investigation into all relevant factors in the complaint handling process.
The best way to avoid complaints would be to attempt to ensure access issues are addressed as fully as possible from the design stage onwards. The advisory notes are intended to assist in achieving that objective.
7.1 The relationship between the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and the Building Code of Australia (BCA)
People who design, build, own, lease, operate or manage premises already have responsibilities under the DDA not to discriminate against people with disabilities in relation to access. (For more information on the DDA see appendix A.) They also have to comply with State and Territory building regulations which reference the Building Code of Australia (BCA).
The BCA applies only to new buildings or those buildings undergoing significant refurbishment or alteration.
The DDA is a general law about eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities. It deals with employment, education, access to premises and a range of other subjects. It focuses on outcomes rather than specifications.
Part of the DDA is concerned with non-discriminatory access to premises and the equitable and dignified use of services and facilities within premises. "Premises" are defined in the DDA as including buildings and anything in the broader built environment including, pathways, carparks, parks and transport systems. (For the DDA definition of premises see appendix A.)
The Commissioner considers there are a number of areas that need to be addressed when providing equitable access to, and use of, premises:
- those parts of buildings that the current BCA access provisions cover, such as sanitary facilities, controls and signs;
- those parts of buildings that the current BCA access provisions do not cover, such as furniture and fitments and warnings;
- those parts of the built environment outside of buildings that the BCA access provisions do not cover such as parks, street furniture, pathways and transport systems;
- management and maintenance issues that can have a significant effect on the use of premises.
The difference between the requirements of the BCA and responsibilities under the DDA has led to concern about what designers, builders, owners, operators, managers and lessors need to do and what users of premises can expect in terms of access. There are also issues that local planning and building approval authorities need to consider when approving developments that might subsequently attract a complaint under the DDA.
The Australian Building Code Board (ABCB) has recently launched BCA 96 which replaced BCA 90 in all states and territories in the second part of 1997. BCA 96 has been developed over a number of years and includes many changes to the access provisions of the current code. The ABCB is now completing a further review of the access provisions in an attempt to achieve greater consistency with the DDA. The resulting revised BCA access provisions (which will in effect be amendment 3 and replace the BCA 96 access provisions) are likely to be adopted in July 1998. See Endnote for February 1999 Update
While a successful outcome to this process will reduce the likelihood of designers, builders, owners, managers, lessors and operators being the subject of complaints, it is unlikely to result in a code or set of 'national standards' that will address all the issues relevant to access to premises as identified above.
Even though a revised BCA will be more consistent with the DDA, compliance with a new BCA will not automatically provide protection from a successful complaint.
Support has been widely expressed for a DDA Standard covering access to premises. Many feel that a DDA Standard would provide the certainty that is needed.
A DDA Standard dealing comprehensively with access to, and use of, premises would become the reference point for compliance with the DDA. It would be the legal yardstick used in the complaint handling process; compliance with a DDA Standard would be regarded legally as compliance with the DDA.
A DDA Standard could incorporate, or refer to, a suitably revised BCA. Where an access issue is not dealt with by the BCA (such as infrastructure, built-in furniture, warnings and management issues) a DDA Standard would need to have additional provisions to cover these areas.
The Federal Attorney-General has the power to make DDA Standards. This power does not at present extend to access to premises. To allow a DDA Standard to be developed covering access to premises, an amendment to the DDA is required. This would take some time to achieve, depending upon the Government's priorities. If the DDA is amended, an appropriate draft DDA Standard would require broad community consultation and then the Minister's consideration before being presented to Parliament for adoption.
It would be desirable for the revision of the BCA access provisions and any DDA amendment processes to move in step. Given that this may not happen quickly, it could be necessary to extend these advisory notes in some form to cover a further interim period.
The Advisory Notes on Access to Premises developed by the Disability Discrimination Commissioner are aimed specifically to assist designers, developers, operators, managers and lessors of new (proposed) premises.
Their purpose is first to create a checklist of the issues (elements) which need to be considered when designing to ensure access for people with different types of disability and, second, to provide notes and references to assist in the process of making decisions about appropriate specifications to achieve access.
The advisory notes state clearly that they aim to clarify the law as it currently stands and are not legally binding. They also state that people who design, build, own, lease, operate or manage premises should note that the DDA allows for a defence of unjustifiable hardship in situations where the provisions of full access would prove too demanding because of, for example, technical, topographical, safety or financial limits.
Existing premises, including heritage buildings, are covered by the DDA. Where equitable access is not provided, people who are responsible for premises may be subject to a complaint.
Existing premises can also call upon a defence of unjustifiable hardship in the event of a complaint.
Unjustifiable hardship may be more apparent in relation to existing premises than for new (proposed) premises. For example, the costs associated with designing a building to ensure easy access through the entrances will be different from the costs associated with putting in ramps or a lift in existing buildings which were not designed for access.
For that reason the advisory notes were developed for new (proposed) buildings. The information may, however, also be useful in relation to existing premises, particularly when reviewing leases or considering major refurbishment.
The advisory notes provide people who are responsible for premises with a broad checklist which could be used to undertake an assessment as part of a plan to address access issues over a period of time. Such an assessment would assist in identifying possible areas of liability, disclose where improvements to access are possible and help establish their feasibility. For example: an assessment of access needs might identify that the installation of a fixed or portable hearing augmentation system in a place of assembly in an existing building could be readily achieved without excessive expenditure.
In some circumstances, because of structural, technical or topographical limitations, or because the provision of full access to or use of existing premises might amount to an unjustifiable hardship, it may still be possible to address access issues in some way by providing an alternative or equivalent access to the actual service operating out of premises. Those aspects that cannot be addressed by changes to the premises may be addressed by changes to the management or operation of the premises. By doing so a service provider would be reducing the likelihood of a complaint being made. For example:
- a legal practice may operate out of a two storey building in which it is not yet feasible to install a ramp or lift to the second storey. It may be possible to arrange the practice so that all common areas such as the library, staff amenities room and a number of solicitor and interview rooms are located on the ground floor which can be made easily accessible;
- a small clothing retail outlet may operate out of a building with an inaccessible mezzanine level. It may be possible to provide a display on the ground floor which gives examples of the range of stock held on the mezzanine level and provide assistance to anyone wishing to try on any of the stock held on an upper level;
- a number of Government Departments operating out of an inaccessible building might choose to operate jointly a shop front service in an accessible central location for enquiries whilst waiting for a lease to expire before moving to accessible premises. Such a shop front could include a range of access provisions including physical access, hearing augmentation, personal assistance and TTY facilities;
- rather than provide all information in Braille a restaurant with a regularly changing menu might provide the menu for a blind person on audio tape on a small personal tape machine, or provide assistance in the form of a menu reader through a trained staff person;
- if physical changes to a heritage building to provide access to a second storey would destroy a significant part of the heritage feature of the building a video presentation on the upstairs might be provided on the ground floor;
- policies and staff training may be put in place to provide direct assistance to a person with a disability until such time as independent access can be provided.
The DDA provides for the development of an Action Plan which sets out how a service provider will identify and deal with discrimination. An Action Plan could be developed which shows how premises might be modified and management practices changed over time to achieve equity. An Action Plan is one of the matters that must be considered by the Commission when a claim of unjustifiable hardship is assessed. Any service provider can choose to make an Action Plan under section 61 of the DDA and lodge it with the Commission. An Action Plan can be revised at any time and can establish priorities over a number of years.
The Commission recently received an application from an organisation for exemption from coverage by the DDA. In deciding not to grant the application the Commission stressed the relationship between an Action Plan and unjustifiable hardship. The Commission adopted the reasons of the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, who wrote:
"The best way of avoiding complaints of discrimination under the DDA is not to engage in unlawful discrimination. Recognizing, however, that our historical legacy of practices, buildings and laws often makes it difficult to avoid, or even to identify, discrimination, the DDA contains mechanisms for facilitating processes of change. People who use these processes receive statutory recognition for their efforts through the operation of section 11, which incorporates Action Plans as an element of unjustifiable hardship and can therefore contribute to a defence to a complaint. Of course, the defence is not automatic: it is the substance of an Action Plan, not the mere fact of its making, that will contribute to deterring or defending a complaint. Nonetheless, for most service providers an Action Plan will be no less insurance against complaint than an exemption, without the need for discharging the burden of public interest that is required for an exemption application to succeed."
For owners, operators, managers and lessors of existing premises, an action plan could be a significant step in both reducing discrimination and deterring complaints.
The essentials of an Action Plan as set out in section 61 of the DDA are:
- policies and programs to achieve the objects of the DDA
- how these policies and programs to persons will be communicated to your staff
- a review that identifies any discriminatory practices
- reasonable goals against which the success of the action plan may be measured
- the way in which policies and programs will be evaluated
- appointment of persons within the service provider to implement the action plan.
Any heritage buildings or premises to which the public has a right of access are subject to the DDA. A failure to provide access to, or use of, premises to people with disabilities could result in a complaint. Registration of a heritage building on the Register of National Estates, or the need to comply with national, state or local conservation laws or regulation, do not in themselves amount to an exemption from coverage by the DDA.
In the event of a complaint consideration of a defence of unjustifiable hardship would include an assessment of the effect any alterations or additions would have on the features that give a building its heritage value.
For a full discussion of the issue of heritage buildings and access issues refer to a report "Access to Heritage Buildings for People with Disabilities" prepared by Eric Martin of Cox Architects and Planners, 22 Jardine Street, Kingston, ACT 2604. The report was funded by the Australian Heritage Commission and sponsored by ACROD.
The new BCA 96 (including Amendment 4 which was adopted in January 1999) is available from the Australian Building Codes Board, GPO Box 9839, Canberra, ACT 2601. Tel. 06 213 7298, Fax. 06 213 7287. The RD 97/01 document referred to on pages 2 and 21 is no longer an appropriate reference point.
The ABCB is continuing to consult on a number of changes to the BCA 96 to make it consistent with the DDA and has stated its intention to propose further amendments.
Standards Australia has also completed a revision of AS 1428.1 (1998) which contains specifications referred to in the BCA.
The Commission is also developing a Frequently asked Questions resource on its Homepage which will provide further information on access to premises issues.