A critical component for successful movement and way-finding in any multi-storey building is a well designed system for vertical transport.
Many forms of vertical transport exist, but few offer a truly equitable experience. Stairs and escalators present obvious difficulties and hazards for people with mobility difficulties, as well as children and older users. Lifts present the most equitable solution, provided their design and incorporation is carefully considered.
Placing lifts in central locations clearly visible from building entries, foyers and reception areas can provide a more intuitive and perceptively continuous experience to users moving through any given building. This can also benefit individuals with vision impairment who may be attempting to locate these key transitionary locations.
Clear requirements in the design of lifts, their controls and announcement features are provided in the Australian Standard AS 1735.12 Lifts, escalators and moving walks Part 12: Facilities for persons with disabilities. This standard includes requirements associated with the location and design of buttons, handrails, the size of door openings and lighting levels. It is directly referenced to the Building Code of Australia (BCA), making much of its content mandatory in any building or part of a building which must also provide access to people with disabilities.
Lifts have traditionally been expensive items of equipment, a fact which has consequently affected the frequency of their use and the type of buildings they have been included in. The introduction of the Disability (Access to Premises: Buildings) Standards and their inclusion into the Access Code of the BCA (i.e. section D3) significantly reduces the impact of these costs.
Previously, stairway platform lifts, vertical platform lifts, low rise lifts, and lifts for people with limited mobility (i.e. as per AS 1735 parts 14, 15 and 16), were not referenced within the BCA and were therefore not allowable within Class 2 to 9 buildings. Their introduction into the BCA presents designers, developers, building managers and owners with a far more cost effective option for providing a more equitable means for vertical transport. These lift options can provide solutions at a fraction of the cost of the lifts previously permissible. A direct benefit of this change to building owners and developers are new opportunities of increasing commercially lettable space to levels within buildings which previously would not have supported many types of uses given the lack of access provided to people with disabilities.
Limitations do apply to the amount of vertical travel allowable for each of these lift types, though these limitations do not impact on their use within smaller buildings with a limited number of storeys. These are often buildings which would previously not have included any lifted vertical transport given the associated costs.
With the current legislative requirements, a number of exemptions and concessions arise with regard to lifts and access. The BCA normally requires an internal lift car to provide a minimum internal circulation space of 1,400 millimetres by 1,600 millimetrs; however where the total rise of the lift is no more than 12 metres, an internal lift car of 1,100 millimetres by 1,400 millimetres is permissible.
State-based legislature implemented to assist with harmonising many of the requirements of the Disability (Access to Premises: Buildings) Standards 2010 (e.g. Building Regulation 116 in Victoria) with Building related legislation institute exemptions and concessions with regard to lifts and access for people with a disability. Existing buildings which provide lifts with an internal lift car of 1,100 millimetres by 1,400 millimetres, and are otherwise compliant with AS 1735.12, are not required to provide the larger lift car size regardless of overall travel.
Class 5, 6, 7b or 8 buildings containing no more than three storeys and with floor areas for each storey of no more than 200 square metres, are not required to provide suitable ramped or lifted access. Notwithstanding this, building owners and developers are encouraged to assess the cost of a Part 15 or 16 lift and consider it more carefully against possible commercial gains. Providing access will extend potential markets to lessees given a far broader group of users, and spaces above the ground floor can also see far more flexibility in their use (renters such as medical centres, dentists, child care facilities, therapists and so on will always seek out accessible premises to occupy).