The current legislative requirements for providing access to people with disabilities is centred on research conducted some time ago.
Items such as circulation spaces and location of fixtures were determined based on two resultant wheelchair footprints from the original research: one representing the 80th percentile of wheelchair users and the other representing the 90th percentile. The Australian Standard AS 1428.1 2009 ‘Design for access and mobility – General requirements for access – New building work’, is the Building Code of Australia (BCA) referenced standard whose requirements are interpolated from this research.
Of course, this suggests that a sizable proportion of people simply cannot enter and interact with the buildings that are currently being built and certified; where they can enter, they may not be able to perform essential functions such using toilet facilities or travel through and operate doorways. It should also be noted that the aforementioned research also predated the increasing prevalence of motorised scooter use. The needs of scooter users are therefore also not addressed.
The people most likely to be excluded from publicly available spaces within the built environment are those with more severe disabilities. These are people who may require specialised seating systems to remain safely seated in their wheelchairs or on a toilet pan; or may not be independently continent and require specialised lifting equipment to attend to their continence needs via the use of an adult change table or specialised toilet pan.
It is logical to assume that certain decisions made in producing the current set of requirements were influenced on the economics of obligating all building owner to construct specialised facilities and preserving the maximum lettable space possible. In the context of a long established Disability Discrimination Act (1992) however, this may not be entirely appropriate.
Many access consultants have been long advocating for such facilities in certain types of the buildings. Buildings such as shopping centres, aquatic centres, airports, hospitals and civic spaces represent society’s modern day Agoras, where all people should be able to freely congregate and participate in the public discourse. The establishment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) reinforces the need for such facilities given that people with severe and profound disabilities will also be better equipped to access the community in future.
A consortium was formed in 2012 called ‘Changing Places Victoria’ which was inspired by the ‘Changing Places’ campaign in the UK. The UK based organisation reports in excess of 550 Changing Places facilities across the UK. An information kit has since been developed by Changing Places Victoria to assist architects, designer, developers and building owners in incorporating these facilities into their buildings.
Recommendations in the design of these facilities include: a height adjustable, adult size change table; a ceiling mounted track hoist system; adequate circulation space allowing for the person with a disability and up to two carers; a centrally placed toilet pan with space on either side for carers; disposable change table covers; an automated entry door; a screen or curtain for privacy; a non-slip floor; suitable grabrails; and accessible showers where these are required – such as leisure centres and travel hubs.
The ‘Changing Places Transforming Lives – Information Kit’ is available from the Association for Children with a Disability (ACD).
Anecdotally, much is said about the indignity, difficulties and the impositions on the safety on people with disabilities and their carers, however this cannot be adequately appreciated by people who have not had an intimate experience with disability and the way it can affect people’s lives. The UK ‘Changing Places’ website also shares several videos of people’s interactions with what is currently being provided in accessible sanitary facilities. I encourage all designers, building owners and managers to watch these to better appreciate the challenges faced.