D.D.A. guide: The ins and outs of access

A person with a disability has a right to have access to places used by the public.

The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) makes it against the law for public places to be inaccessible to people with a disability.

Places used by the public include:

  • Public footpaths and walkways
  • Educational institutions
  • Shops and department stores
  • Banks, credit unions, building societies
  • Parks, public swimming pools, public toilets, and pedestrian malls
  • Cafes, restaurants, pubs
  • Theatres and other places of entertainment
  • Lawyers' offices and legal services
  • Libraries
  • Sporting venues
  • Social and sporting clubs
  • Government offices
  • Public transport including trains, buses, ferries, boats, ships and planes
  • Dentists' and doctors' surgeries
  • Hospitals
  • Hairdressers and beauty salons
  • Travel agents, and
  • Government-run services

This applies to existing places as well as places under construction. To comply with the DDA existing places may need to be modified to be accessible (except where this would involve "unjustifiable hardship").

What is expected?

Every area and facility open to the public should be open and available to people with a disability. They should expect to enter and make use of places used by the public if people without a disability can do so.

For example:

  • Places used by the public should be accessible at the entrance and inside
  • Facilities in these places should also be accessible (wheelchair-accessible toilets, lift buttons within reach, tactile and audible lift signals for people with vision impairments)
  • Rather than being confined to a segregated space or the worst seats, all areas within places used by the public should be accessible to people with a disability.
  • Information available to uers of the premises should be accessible.

Examples of changes which have already taken place at the request of people with a disability include:

  • A local council built footpath ramps, altered stair areas, widened some path areas, and relocated post boxes and traffic signs to create a clear passage and access to three local shops.
  • A ramp was installed at the front door of a bank to enable a local customer to independently conduct her financial transactions.
  • Furniture in a college canteen was rearranged to enable a student easier access. The new arrangements meant improved traffic flow for everyone.
  • A shopping complex provided wayfinding information on how to get to the lifts.
  • A lift was adapted to provide tactile and audio information about floor numbers.

While changes may not happen overnight, people with a disability should expect that changes will be made. A person with a disability has every right to complain when they are discriminated against because a place used by the public is inaccessible.

What if providing access is too difficult?

The DDA does not require the provision of access to be made if this will cause major difficulties or excessive costs to a person or organisation. This is called "unjustifiable hardship".

But before deciding that providing access is unjustified, a person or organisation should:

  • thoroughly consider how access might be provided
  • discuss this directly with the person involved, and
  • consult relevant sources of advice.

If adjustments cause hardship it is up to the organisation to show that they are unjustified.

Where can you find out more?

The Commission has produced Advisory Notes on Access to Premises to assist people to better understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to access to premises. See also the Frequently asked Questions material and conciliated complaint outcomes available on our web site and in other formats on request.

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