Information on improving building access for all

Introduction

In February 2016, Equal Opportunity Tasmania ran a workshop on how to make sure new and upgraded buildings meet all the requirements for access for people with disability.

The workshop was funded by the Attorney-General through the Solicitors’ Guarantee Fund and participants came from disability advocacy groups, Council Access Advisory Committees, community legal centres, Equal Opportunity Tasmania and disability service providers.

The main aim in providing the workshop was to increase community understanding of what laws and regulations cover access to buildings and what people can do if they think those laws and regulations have not been not complied with.

One of the suggestions that came out of the workshop was that organisations such as Equal Opportunity Tasmania could assist in increasing community understanding of the importance of building access by including information in our newsletter about what a building with good access looks like. 

Accessible buildings ensure people with disability and their families and friends can participate in and contribute to the social, economic and political life of our community. However, good access is not just important for people who have a disability now, it will be important for all of us as our abilities change over time. 

This resource was prepared by Michael Small of Michael Small Consulting Pty Ltd, who also prepared and delivered the workshop.  It is being published to both inform readers and enable them to understand what they can do when they see something that might not provide the level of access now required in new buildings.

1. Overview

In 2011, major changes were introduced to the laws that govern building access.  As those changes take effect with new buildings (and older buildings undergoing upgrades) we will see important improvements in building accessibility.

Developers, architects and builders all have a responsibility to make sure the buildings they are responsible for incorporate the new access requirements. Building certifiers and Councils play an important role in ensuring completed buildings comply.

Some of the significant improvements in access we should expect to see in new buildings include:

  • increases in the number of entrances to buildings that must be accessible;
  • increases in the numbers of accessible unisex toilets;
  • improved safety and access features on stairways to assist people with low vision;
  • wider doorways for people who use wheelchairs or walking frames;
  • improved access to places such as swimming pools, cinemas and hotels;
  • a new type of toilet designed to assist people with mobility difficulties, but who do not use a wheelchair called the ambulant accessible toilet.

Title: Figure 1 - Description: Figure 1 is a photo showing steps with bright yellow colour contrast strips along the edge of each step. The surface and riser of each step is black.

Figure 1: shows high contrast strips on the nosing of steps which makes the edge of steps easier to see for people with low vision

Title: Figure 2 - Description: Figure 2 is a photo of ramp into a swimming pool with a wheelchair at the top of the ramp and handrails on both sides of the ramp.

Figure 2: shows a ramp access to a council swimming pool

In the next sectionthere is information about the access requirements so people with disability can get to a building from the footpath or car-parking area.

2. Getting to a building from the footpath

In this section, we are looking at what the minimum requirements are to ensure people with disability can get to a new building from the footpath at the allotment boundary or car parking spaces.

The law says that there must be a path of travel from the allotment boundary (usually the public footpath) suitable for use by people with disability, including people who are blind or who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs.

This means that the path must be at least 1 metre wide, it must be firm and smooth with no steps, no overhanging hazards such as tree branches, and no obstacles that a person might walk into or trip over.

Title: Figure 3 - Description: Figure 3 is a photo of a good firm level approach to a building from the footpath

Figure 3: shows a good firm level approach to a building from the footpath

If the path of travel includes a ramp because of a difference in height between the footpath and building, then the ramp must have handrails on both sides, a gradual incline (a 1 in 14 gradient) and landings every 9 metres so a person can rest on a level surface.

A ramp should also have tactile ground surface indicators (tgsi) at the top and bottom. The tgsi are important for blind people as they give a cue that the ramp has ended and that the person is moving out into an area that may be busy with other pedestrians moving across the path of travel.

Title: Figure 4 - Description: Figure 4 is a photo of a ramp leading from the footpath to the entrance of a building with handrails, a gradual incline (shallow gradient) and tactile ground surface indicators at the bottom of the ramp.

Figure 4: shows a ramp leading from the footpath to the entrance of a building with handrails, a gradual incline (shallow gradient) and tactile ground surface indicators at the bottom of the ramp

The law also requires a path suitable for use by people with disability from any accessible car-parking space in a car park linked to the building.

All new buildings should be designed and built to provide this level of access. If a new building doesn’t meet these access requirements, those responsible for the building could be subject to a successful discrimination complaint. If you see a new building that does not have good access, you can also ask your local council to look into why it doesn’t.

3. Getting into a building

In this section, we are looking at what the minimum requirements are to ensure people with disability can get into a building through the principal pedestrian entrance (main entrance) and any other entrances that are required to be accessible.

The law says that for new buildings the main entrance used by pedestrians must be accessible. If there is more than one pedestrian entrance then 50% of all entrances must be accessible including the main entrance. So, for example, if a building has two pedestrian entrances only the main entrance is required to be accessible, however, if the building has four (4) entrances at least two (2) of the entrances (50%) must be accessible.

The law also says that someone should not have to travel more than 50 metres from an inaccessible entrance to find an accessible entrance. This means that sometimes more entrances will need to be accessible.

An accessible entrance is one that:

  • has a door opening of at least 850 mm: if the entrance has two or more door leaves, at least one must be 850 mm opening;
  • has enough room on the latch-side of the door to allow someone using a wheelchair to pull in sideward to reach over to grab the handle;
  • has a door handle that is easy to grasp and turn;
  • is easy to identify with strong contrast around the frame or with the surrounding wall;
  • has a high-contrast marking across the doorway if the door and surrounding area is fully glazed so that people with low vision can identify it as a door.

Title: Figure 5 - Description: Figure 5 is a diagram of the vertical view of an open door with a minimum door opening width of 850mm clear between the inner edge of the open door and the opposite door jamb

Figure 5: shows the minimum door width

Title: Figure 6 - Description: Figure 6 is a diagram showing the view from above of a person in a wheelchair approaching a door and there being enough space on the latch side of the door for them to approach the door and open it without having to reverse back

Figure 6: shows the clear area on the latch-side (opening side) of the door

Title: Figure 7 - Description: Figure 7 is a photo showing a clear glass door with strong colour contrast strip across whole of glass surface

Figure 7: shows a clearly visible doorway with good contrast markings