When it comes to accessibility, there are common themes in architectural design documentation.

A significant portion of time is spent reviewing architectural documentation at various stages of a project. These stages vary and are often project specific, client specific or based on the designer’s preferences. An access consultant can add value when reviewing the schematic design, design development and tender or construction issue stages of any architectural design process.

Increasingly, the opportunity is there to develop and prepare ‘alternative solutions’ as part of a certified building design. These are performance-based assessments that verify compliance with the relevant performance requirements of the Building Code of Australia (BCA), part of the National Construction Code and the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 (often referred to as the  Premises Standards).

An ‘alternative solution’ has been defined as a building solution which complies with the performance requirements in ways other than by satisfying the ‘deemed-to-satisfy’ provisions of the BCA. This can provide an element of flexibility and innovation to determine the best means for demonstrating compliance.  The use of ‘alternative solutions’ are now regularly forming a critical part of architectural designs, which include meeting (or exceeding) the minimum levels of accessibility. However, good documentation must support any performance-based design solution.

Here are nine potential recommendations for dealing with common accessibility issues:

  1. Show Accurate Levels (or RLs) on Drawings: The entrances of a building need to align to the external surface. If they don’t for whatever reason (such as weatherproofing) then a suitable threshold ramp, step ramp or access ramp is required to negotiate these levels. This could have a spatial impact on the design and RLs must be verified to reduce the risk of project variations. This is just as important inside a building.
  2. Dimension Everything: We often see a lack of dimensioning of fixtures and fittings in accessible toilets, accessible bathrooms and ambulant toilet elevations/plans in final stages of documentation. These need to be dimensioned if a builder of plumber is working off these drawings. Don’t rely on them knowing the correct height of a mirror, shower tap, soap dispenser or light switch.
  3. Reference Access Standards: Incorrect or little reference to the access standards in drawing notes, schedules and specifications is a common occurrence (i.e. AS1428-2009, AS/NZS 1428.4.1:2009 and AS/NZS 2890.6:2009). Providing references, including the applicable clause, is a good risk mitigation strategy.
  4. Draw Compliant Accessible Car Parking Spaces: Accessible car parking sizes are often drawn at 4.9 metres long. AS/NZS 2890.6 is referenced in both the BCA and the Premises Standards, which is Commonwealth legislation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The correct length is 5.4 metres long.
  5. Turning Spaces at the End of Accessways: All accessible parts of buildings need a turning space at the end of each accessway. This is a BCA requirement under Clause D3.3 and AS1428.1. The space required at the end of each corridor in an accessible part of a building is 1,540 millimetres wide by 2,070 millimetres long (in the direction of travel).
  6. Handrail Profiles: Handrails are required in various parts of a building, including (but not limited to) passenger lifts, general stairways, fire escape stairways, access ramps. A typical handrail section/detail should always be prepared.
  7. Stair and Ramp Designs: Ramps and stairs need to be set back from property boundaries and internal corridors. Stairs need to be carefully detailed showing the tread and nosing strip profile and handrail extensions at the top and bottom of each stair or ramp. The first ascending riser on an intermediate stair landing needs to be set back one tread to ensure the internal handrail transitions correctly.
  8. Passenger Lifts: Lifts are used to achieve compliance between levels of a building and sometimes a client will just have to accept that legislation mandates for an inclusive environment.
  9. Access Consultants: Lastly, engage an accredited access consultant to conduct a design review at an early stage. It’s a small price to reduce risk, and it could highlight something that would be expensive or difficult to fix later.