Accessible facilities are critical for people with disability. However, in public spaces, they are also prone to misuse, vandalism and poor treatment by people who fail to understand their importance in society.

To address this problem the Master Locksmiths Association of Australia (MLAA) developed a new master key system in 1994-95, and after a trial with Pittwater Council, this was rolled out nationally. This system is known as the Master Locksmiths Access Key, or simply ‘MLAK’ for short.

The system relies on a restricted use lock cylinder being installed on specialised disability equipment or on doors into accessible facilities. People wishing to use these accessible facilities can obtain a key from MLAA or in some cases, from their local council. In fact, some more progressive councils will even provide these keys for free.

To control the use of the MLAK system, eligibility has been restricted to:

  • people who have a disability
  • people who care for someone with a disability
  • the owner or manager of a building with an accessible facility
  • disability organisations
  • community health centres

To help people plan their trips, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia maintains a directory of MLAK-enabled facilities across Australia. Information is also available on the National Public Toilet Map, which provides details of over 17,000 publicly available toilets across Australia, including those with accessible features such as adult change facilities and those that use of an MLAK. Additionally, many councils promote the use of the MLAK.

There are two different types of keys available, the first is a standard type master key, as shown in the photo, the second has a larger key head making it easier to use by people with limited hand dexterity.

The need for such a lock system is not unique to Australia. A similar program exists in the UK called the ‘RADAR – National Key Scheme’ (or NKS) and parts of Europe called the ‘The eurokey.’ The advantages of the eurokey system include:

  • Improving cleanliness and hygiene compared to other public facilities
  • Providing protection from vandalism
  • Allowing the facilities to be used independently of opening times

The ability to provide access to a facility outside normal operating hours is an important feature of the MLAK and allows key holders to gain 24-hour access to public facilities that would have historically been closed after hours to prevent vandalism.

Not only does the use of the MLAK reduce damage caused by vandals, it also helps keep facilities clean and ready for use. In terms of changing places facilities, this also means that expensive equipment such as adjustable adult-sized change tables, ceiling mounted hoist systems, and adjustable height washbasins are well cared for and operable at all times.

The MLAK system is increasingly becoming popular for these reasons in many public spaces, such as:

  • Railway station facilities, including passenger lifts
  • Accessible toilets in public parks
  • Changing Places facilities
  • Playground equipment, such as the wheelchair accessible ‘Liberty Swing
  • Some public buildings are using the MLAK to secure their own facilities.

Any organisation wishing to utilise the MLAK system must first contact an MLAA member and install the lock cylinder. Then, signage must be installed that complies with applicable access standards and features braille and tactile text. Lastly, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia must be advised of the works so they can update their MLAK-enabled facilities database.

A word of caution: there is a fine line between protecting a toilet facility from vandalism and providing an equitable experience. There will be times when people with disability will attempt to use an accessible toilet but do not have the MLAK key (i.e. they don’t have a key, or they’re from overseas, or they or their carer/assistant forgot the key). If the other toilets are unlocked, yet the accessible toilet is locked, then it could be seen as discriminatory.

However, if the MLAK provides access to a locked facility after normal opening times when all toilets are locked for security, then this is a better solution. Similarly, in the case of the changing places toilets, the adoption of the MLAK has been part of the design from very early on and welcomed by user groups as it protects the valuable equipment inside. Therefore, any proposed use of the MLAK must be carefully considered.

MLAK keys are available for purchase from members of the MLAA or contact your local Council to discuss their approach.

Main Image: Courtesy of Lee Wilson