Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said today’s launch by the federal government of proposed new standards for access to public buildings for people with a disability was a significant step towards making our buildings safer and more accessible for everyone.
“Ensuring better access has to be seen as an investment in the future,” said Commissioner Innes. “As our population ages, every Australian will benefit from these improvements.”
The Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards clarify how designers, developers, managers and building certifiers can meet their responsibilities under discrimination law to ensure buildings are accessible to people with a disability.
“The launch of these Premises Standards mean that we are close to finalising what will be far-reaching improvements in building design and construction throughout Australia,” said Commissioner Innes. “We are also closer to the goal of making building law and discrimination law say the same thing when it comes to access.”
Once standards are approved by Parliament, Commissioner Innes expects work to proceed on making changes to building laws to ensure they reflect the new standards. It is expected that the standards will come into force in May 2011, a timeframe that gives industry and regulators time to fully understand the changes and prepare themselves to rigorously apply them.
“If we look at the thousands of buildings without adequate access for people with a disability, which have been constructed or renovated since work started on developing these standards in 2001, the importance of finalising the Premises Standards becomes very clear,” Mr. Innes said.
Commissioner Innes said the tabling of the standards was an exciting development that would also make an important contribution to the government’s social inclusion agenda. He congratulated all those who had participated in their development, in particular the federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, and the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, for their commitment to their finalisation.
Media contact: Shyamla Eswaran 02 9284 9656 or 0430 366 529
Background document follows
Premises Standards – improving building access for all Australians
Since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force in March 1993 complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission and state/territory anti-discrimination agencies have shown that while a building might meet the requirements of building law it could still be the subject of a successful complaint under anti-discrimination law.
This inconsistency covers both the level of access required (for example, the area of coverage of a hearing augmentation system in a conference room) and the amenity of the access provided (for example, the location of unisex accessible toilets and location of accessible entrances and doorways).
Since 1995, progressive changes to the national building code – the Building Code of Australia (BCA) - have been made to address these inconsistencies. The process was provided with significant momentum in 2000, when the federal government amended the DDA to allow for the development of Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards (Premises Standards).
It is envisaged that the effect of the Premises Standards would be that owners, developers and managers of buildings used by the public would be able to meet the objectives of the DDA (as they apply to buildings) by meeting the requirements of the Premises Standards. In the absence of these standards, people with a disability, owners and developers would continue having to rely on the individual complaints mechanism of the DDA as the only means of defining compliance.
Rather than develop Premises Standards as a separate and additional code to be followed by the building industry the intention is, once the Premises Standards are complete, to change the BCA access provisions to reflect the requirements within the Premises Standards.
This will mean that the building industry can continue to use the new BCA confident that compliance with a new BCA would ensure compliance with the Premises Standards, and therefore, the DDA.
The development of the Premises Standards
In 2001, the federal Government asked the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to develop proposals for a Premises Standards. The ABCB established the Building Access Policy Committee (BAPC), which included representatives from government, people with a disability, building professionals and the property sector.
The BAPC developed draft Premises Standards which were released for public comment in 2004. Following consultation, members of the BAPC tried to find agreement on how to finalise the draft. However, there were significant differences of view on some key issues including, for example, circulation space dimensions, access to upper floors in small buildings and whether or not to require access to common areas in apartment blocks.
In 2005 the ABCB sent a report to government identifying areas where agreement could not be reached and where Government needed to make final decisions.
In late 2008, the Government held more discussions with representatives from the disability and building sectors and, in December 2008, presented a draft Premises Standards to Parliament. This draft was immediately referred to a Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for investigation.
During the first half of 2009 the Committee conducted a number of public hearings and received over 140 submissions. The Committee delivered its report to Parliament in June 2009 and made a number of recommendations for changes to the draft. Most of the recommendations were adopted in the final standards www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/laca/disabilitystandards/report.htm
On 15 March, the Government tabled its response to the Parliamentary report and registered the final Premises Standards. The Premises Standards are a disallowable instrument and will be before Parliament for 15 sitting days before final adoption.
Some of the changes
Some of the major changes from the current BCA requirements will include:
- Increases in the number of accessible entrances and doorways to buildings.
- Increases in circulation space requirements in most places such as in lifts, accessible toilets and at doorways.
- Some improvements in signage in relation to accessible facilities.
- The introduction of a requirement for passing and turning spaces on passageways in some situations.
- Increases in the areas covered by hearing augmentation systems in rooms with a built in PA system.
- Improvements in the types of lifts usable and access features within lifts.
- Improvements in the number and distribution of accessible spaces in cinema and theatres.
- The introduction of access requirements to certain common areas in new apartment blocks in which there is one or more short term rent units.
- The introduction of requirements for accessible facilities in new or upgraded accommodation such as bed and breakfast or cabins in holiday parks.
- Increased requirements for accessible units in hotels and motels.
- The introduction of requirements for access into public swimming pools where the perimeter of the pool is greater than 40 metres.
- Significant increases in the number and location of unisex accessible toilets and the introduction of ‘ambulant accessible cubicles’ in standard toilets.
Subject to adoption by Parliament, the Premises Standards will take effect from 1 May 2011 and will apply to new buildings and new parts of existing buildings undergoing renovation or upgrade. It is anticipated the BCA will be changed to reflect the content of the Premises Standards at the same time. This will ensure consistency between the requirements of building and discrimination law in relation to the construction of buildings.