The good, the bad and the ugly - design and construction for access
Over the past decade the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) has dealt with thousands of inquiries from people with disabilities, designers, builders and certifiers about how to make sure buildings are accessible at a level consistent with responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
As most of you will know, while the HREOC has issued advisory notes and guidelines on good practice the DDA does not include technical specifications that can be referred to for compliance.
In order to give greater clarity to what is required the HREOC and many industry, community and government bodies have been working with the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to develop a DDA Disability Standard on Access to Premises (Premises Standard).
When completed, this Premises Standard, and corresponding changes to the Building Code of Australia (BCA), will provide designers, builders and certifiers with design specifications deemed to meet both DDA and BCA requirements.
In the meantime new buildings are being built and existing buildings renovated. Unfortunately, the experience of the HREOC would suggest that in far too many cases the requirements for access of even the current BCA and its referenced Australian Standards are not being met.
This is simply not acceptable. Failure to put in fire control systems to specification or failures to ensure footings are appropriate for buildings are not tolerated. Yet we seem to tolerate handrails in accessible toilets being put in upside down, missing signage that is required by the BCA and ineffectively located Tactile Ground Surface Indicators.
In many instances these mistakes result in buildings being inaccessible to people with disabilities. In some cases they can result in additional expenditure for retrofitting at a later date when certification is refused or DDA complaints are made.
The good, the bad and the ugly has developed out of a speech given to the NSW Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) conference in 2006. In that speech the HREOC identified the critical role designers, builders and certifiers had in ensuring building law was fully applied in the area of access.
There was a particularly good response to the photographs used during the speech to illustrate the common problems people with disabilities face when the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards are inadequately applied.
As a result the HREOC decided to develop a resource that provides examples of common mistakes made in applying the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards which could be used by designers, builders, certifiers and access experts as an education and information tool.
While the HREOC would not want to discourage Alternative Solutions to meeting the performance requirements of the BCA we would say that a thorough knowledge of the BCA requirements and the technical specifications for achieving compliance is vital.
The purpose of this resource is to explain why precise application of the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards is necessary by describing how people with disability benefit from good design and construction.
It does not try to replicate all the access provisions of the BCA or Australian Standards in words and pictures, and it does not seek to define access requirements under the DDA. It simply draws attention to the fact that the technical specifications are there for a reason and failure to apply them has serious consequences.