The common understanding is that creating an accessible building involves compliance with mandatory relevant access legislation, codes and standards. This includes standards that will have an impact on the accessibility of the premises for people with a range of disabilities including mobility, vision, hearing, intellectual ability, cognitive ability etc.
There is also a variety of non mandatory standards, codes, guidelines, and other references that should be used and considered in the process, in order to determine if appropriate access for everyone is provided.
Design of the built environment will also need to consider the day to day operations of the premises, the premises type, management issues, maintenance, and safety in addition to relevant standards. A comprehensive access audit of premises would also encompass egress and needs to consider access and safety in emergency situations.
With the introduction of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 in Australia, there are now minimum standards for access to new buildings and buildings undergoing significant upgrade. Whilst it is likely that these will be used as the basis for many access audits, these standards only relate to some parts of some buildings. Other elements and premises as defined under the federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 will not be covered under the Premises Standards.
For example, fixtures and fittings within buildings, parks and open spaces, streetscapes and playgrounds are generally not covered by the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010. Other standards, references and information will need to be considered to determine if appropriate access is provided to these areas. Similarly many wayfinding, communication systems and information processes will also sit outside the Premises Standards.
Considering how access will be provided to all of the following areas within buildings is essential:
- Accessible Car Parking
- Change / Shower Facilities
- Children’s Service Centres
- Customer Service Areas
- Emergency Egress / Evacuation
- Floor / Ground Surfaces
- Hearing Augmentation
- Internal Accessways
- Kerb Ramps
- Kitchen / Dining / Canteen Areas
- Lifts – Passenger
- Meeting Spaces
- Pathways (Accessways)
- Swimming Pools
- Spectator Facilities
- Tactile Ground Surface Indicators
- Toilets (Designated Accessible Toilets)
In addition to legislation, standards, codes, and guidelines, different types of design also play a part in creating accessible buildings. For example, incorporating the principles of Universal Design can greatly increase the overall accessibility of a building that is usable by everyone.
Universal design is the process of designing products and environments to be used by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. When everyone’s needs are considered, it is far more likely than an overall more accessible environment will be created.
Regardless of the size and use of a building, there are a range of items, both mandatory and non-mandatory that will greatly impact accessibility.
We need to ensure that we go beyond minimum compliance to achieve maximum outcomes for everyone.