Do New Disability Standards Deliver Equality for All? 1

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Monday, May 11th, 2015
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In May, 2011 the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 came into effect.

The aim of the standards were twofold: to ensure people with disabilities are provided with equitable, dignified and cost-effective access to public buildings, and to provide certainty to the building industry that in complying with these standards, they will also not be acting unlawfully under the Disability Discrimination Act (1992).

Within the standard, a timetable for review stipulates this is to occur at five-year intervals.

The Department of Industry and Science, in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Department, is now calling for submissions on the effectiveness of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 in providing people with disabilities suitable access to buildings.

A Review Discussion Paper has been made available via the Department of Industry and Science’s website with a view to providing additional details regarding the scope of the review and in outlining the key issues to be addressed.

The discussion paper states that “the review will examine:

  1. The alignment of the National Construction Code (NCC) access provisions with Schedule 1 (Access Code) of the Premises Standards;
  2. The impact of any inconsistencies between the state and territory building laws and regulations and the provisions of the Standards that are not contained in the NCC;
  3. Any unintended consequences in the application and interpretation of the Standards; and
  4. Any barriers, to the participation of people with disability, in accessing new and upgraded public buildings in Australia since 1 May 2011.”

Beyond reviewing the initial aims of the standard, several additions are included in the terms of reference for the review. These include identifying any necessary amendments, the interaction between the standards and existing state based regulatory schemes, any inconsistencies in the interpretation and application of the standards.

The review is to also encompass the implementation of the Australian Government’s response to the 2009 report entitled Access all Areas. In summary, the report included recommendations relating to various important considerations and issues inclusive of but not limited to:

  • The small building and lessee exemptions
  • Wheelchair dimensions
  • Locking off certain types of lifts (e.g. vertical platform lifts)
  • Building elements such as accessible sanitary facilities, swimming pools, accessible parking, accessible room requirements in accommodation buildings, wayfinding
  • Emergency egress
  • Public transport buildings

Other significant events which have occurred over the previous five years will also be relevant to the current review.

A Regulatory Impact Statement was released in 2014 regarding the possibility of additional emergency egress provisions for people with disabilities. Following what in my view was a considerably understated and short-sighted assessment of the benefits of introducing additional provisions such as visual and tactile alarms and accessibility of fire-isolated exits among others, the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) dismissed inclusion of these largely on the consideration of cost alone.

Research into the dimensions of wheelchairs and the adequacy of the current requirements for circulation, reach and interaction with various building elements was also undertaken and completed in 2014. A final report was published, and is currently still available at the ABCB website.

The report surmises that a substantial proportion of the current spatial requirements are appropriate. The report does however identify several key areas which require further assessment including 180° turning areas, landing lengths, lift dimensions, hand basin and shower recess design, and seating spaces in auditoriums. Substantial work in this area is obviously necessary.

As part of the review process the Department of Industry and Science will also be conducting a series of public information sessions to share additional information with regard to the scope of the review, the review process, as well how to make a submission.

The review must be completed by May 1, 2016 and the closing date for stakeholders and interested persons to provide a written submission is Monday, June 15, 2015.

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  1. Jane Bringolf

    Thank you George for bringing this item to the publication. There is one glaring omission in the review, and that is access to residential premises. On reading the transcripts from industry stakeholders during the final stages of the Premises Standard, residential properties were originally included. Sadly, some industry players (not to be named) fought tooth and nail to have them excluded. Now is the time to put them on the agenda again. The NDIS cannot be considered a success until everyone is able to visit each other in their own homes.