The calendar years of 2010 and 2011 saw significant legislative changes in relation to access to people with a disability.

In 2010, the much anticipated Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 commenced. In an attempt to harmonise this standard with the relevant building legislation, in 2011 the Building Code of Australia (BCA) was also amended to incorporate significant changes to the accessibility requirements for buildings.

Almost four years on, even though significant progress has been made, there are components of the changes included which are often misunderstood or where awareness in the industry is relatively low.

One such area is that of Class 2 Buildings and buildings which have a mixed classification but include a Class 2 component. A Class 2 building is defined by the BCA as ‘a building containing 2 or more sole-occupancy units each being a separate dwelling.’

The scope of the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 and Class 2 buildings extends to the common areas in buildings where one or more of the dwellings are available for short-term rent. As part of the harmonisation objective, the BCA fell in line with these requirements but extended them to all Class 2 buildings irrespective of whether there were any components available for short-term rent.

The common areas affected include at least one type of each room or space available for common use by the residents and may include cooking facilities, gymnasiums, laundries, swimming pools, etc. In light of the economic imposition of including access to multi-level buildings, buildings which include lifted access must provide suitable access to each floor that the lift serves. Buildings without a lift must provide access to at least one floor containing sole-occupancy units. To levels that require access, access extends to the entrance doorway of each sole-occupancy unit on that level.

Prior to these changes, no accessibility requirements applied to these types of buildings.

Given the scale of the change, unfortunately many developments underwent an extensive planning and development phase only to find that they were not able to gain a building permit for the work proposed. In some states, building regulations were formulated to acknowledge this and allow buildings whose planning and applications for certification had predated the changes to continue (e.g. Building Regulation 116 in Victoria).

Even four years on however, as access consultants, we continue to see buildings designed with little regard to these inclusions on an all too frequent basis. In many instances, town planning departments have issued planning permits for these buildings without due regard to the accessibility requirements, probably partly due to the traditional view of what should be assessed as part of a town planning permit but also due to a lack of knowledge and awareness of the relevant legislative requirements.

Examples of the type of omissions that occur include:

  • Multi-level mixed use buildings which include a retail component to the ground floor (Class 6 building) and no lift, not providing any sole-occupancy units to the ground floor in their desire to maximise lettable space while also fit all car-parking, plant, etc. to the ground floor.
  • The omission of new circulation spaces inclusive of areas for a wheelchair user to pass another ambulant person or wheelchair user, or to perform a 180-degree turn at a dead end.
  • Confusion surrounding whether entries to sole-occupancy units on accessible levels should provide door circulation, accessible hardware, a suitable clear opening width and contrasting finishes.
  • Common stairs not being designed to include the necessary handrail extensions and setbacks from pathways.
  • Building entries and foyers lacking suitably accessible components, widths and circulation spaces.

It is well advised to gain some advice from an accredited access consultant as well as the relevant building surveyor at the initial design phase of any such project to ensure these requirements have all been accommodated appropriately.