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Getting it right - a baker's dozen

Disability Disability Rights

Getting it right - a baker's dozen

Building a sustainable future - the Australian Way NSW AIBS State Conference 20 July 2007

Michael Small
Senior Policy Officer
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

Thank you for this opportunity to talk to you today. I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting.

In my presentation I will provide the latest information on the development of the proposed Premises Standard and changes to the Building Code of Australia.

Most of my time however, will be spent on introducing you to a new resource the Commission is formally launching at this conference. This is The good, the bad and the ugly. A copy of the CD is in your conference show-bag.

Premises Standard

Let me start though by providing a brief update on the proposed Access to Premises Standard and changes to the Building Code of Australia.

As most of you will know, while the HREOC has issued advisory notes and guidelines on good practice the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) does not include technical specifications that can be used for determining compliance.

I am sure you also know that inconsistencies between building law and anti-discrimination law means that everyone involved in the design, construction and certification of buildings has been unsure as to what to do exactly to meet both laws.

In order to give greater clarity to what is required the HREOC and many industry, community and government bodies have been working for more than six years with the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to develop a DDA Disability Standard on Access to Premises (Premises Standard).

When completed, this Premises Standard, and corresponding changes to the Building Code of Australia (BCA), will provide designers, builders and certifiers with design specifications deemed to meet both DDA and BCA requirements.

The draft Premises Standard was released for public consultation in early 2004 and subsequently the Building Access Policy Committee, which was established by the ABCB to develop the draft, assessed the submissions to identify possible changes.

While negotiations resulted in some changes agreement could not be reached on all items - in particular issues such as the number and location of accessible toilets, circulation requirements in areas such as corridors and access to the upper floors in 2 and 3 storey buildings continued to be subject to strong disagreements.

As a result the ABCB considered the alternative views provided by the BAPC and made its own recommendations to the Attorney-General and the Minister for Industry Tourism and Resources.

The Ministers have had the report for more than 12 months and while the delay in concluding this project is extremely frustrating for all concerned we continue to be committed to assisting in its completion.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - design and construction for access .

In the meantime new buildings are being built and existing buildings renovated.

In many instances designers and people involved in the approval and certification processes are doing all they can to ensure access is provided effectively and, where possible, at a level that better reflects the requirements of the DDA.

Unfortunately, the experience of the HREOC would suggest that in far too many cases the performance requirements and technical specifications for access of even the current BCA and its referenced Australian Standards are not being met. The frequent failure of designers and builders to meet specification is compounded by certifiers who do not identify non compliant features or fail to insist on their rectification.

This is simply not acceptable.

As professionals you would not tolerate fire control systems or sound insulation requirements that do not meet specification. Yet there seems to be a tolerance of handrails in accessible toilets being put in upside down, missing signage that is required by the BCA and ineffectively located Tactile Ground Surface Indicators.

In many instances these mistakes result in buildings being inaccessible to people with disabilities. In some cases they also result in unnecessary expenditure on the part of developers and can result in additional cost in retrofitting at a later date when certification is refused or DDA complaints are made. The risk for those in the design and certification area is that they too will be drawn into either a DDA complaint or a complaint to a body such as the NSW Building Professionals Board.

When the Premises Standard and changes to the BCA occur there will be a heightened awareness of the design and construction specifications required to comply with the law and a need for an extensive information and continuing education program to assist building professionals to understand the new requirements.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a contribution to improving the capacity of building professionals to meet their responsibilities to ensure accurate application of relevant building law.

It has developed out of a speech given to the NSW Australian Institute of Building Surveyors (AIBS) conference in 2006. In that speech I identified the critical role designers, builders and certifiers had in ensuring building law was fully applied in the area of access.

There was a particularly good response to the photographs used during the speech to illustrate the common problems people with disabilities face when the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards are inadequately applied.

As a result we decided to develop a resource that provides examples of common mistakes made in applying the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards which could be used by designers, builders, certifiers and access experts as an education and information tool.

Our experience tells us that one of the reasons designers, builders and certifiers often fail to give appropriate attention to the detail of access features is because they do not understand why technical precision is necessary; how people with disability move about in and use the built environment and what the purpose of various technical specifications are.

The purpose of this resource, then, is threefold.

•  First it is to explain why precise application of the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards is necessary by describing how people with disability benefit from good design and construction.

•  Second it is to encourage designers and builders to give more attention to the BCA and its referenced Australian Standards.

•  Third it is to encourage certifiers to more vigorously exercise their gatekeeper role to ensure building approval conditions are fully met.

It does not try to replicate all the access provisions of the BCA or Australian Standards in words and pictures, and it does not seek to define access requirements under the DDA. It simply draws attention to the fact that the technical specifications are there for a reason and failure to apply them has serious consequences.

Review of the CD

Before looking at the CD I should note that the interpretation of the BCA given in the examples is our interpretation and that some of the examples given in the photographs might include other background features that are not BCA compliant. Over the coming months we will update the resource and include new photographs as they come available. You are invited at any time to offer comment, suggest editorial changes and provide photographs of examples you come across.

There are in fact three resources on the CD.

  1. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly - a look at 13 examples of the most common problems and misinterpretations in applying today's Building Code of Australia (BCA) in the area of access. (Hence the title of today's presentation - a baker's dozen being 13) The Good, the Bad and the Ugly shows in words and pictures why a thorough understanding and application of the BCA is vital to ensuring access.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly can be used as a self learning tool or used as part of a continuing education program, for example, in a Local Government Building Section or within an architects firm.

  1. Photographs from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in a Word document. The photographs used to illustrate good and bad applications of the BCA are provided for training sessions and presentations. Presenters can use the photographs selectively in a PowerPoint presentation to draw out discussion and make particular points about the requirements of the BCA.


  1. Guidelines on access to buildings and services - the guidelines are aimed at businesses, service providers, Government agencies, property managers and anyone involved in the purchasing, leasing or assessment of property. The aim of the guideline is to assist in identifying possible barriers to buildings and services and direct people to resources and expertise to address those barriers.

The examples chosen do not necessarily represent the most serious mistakes made but reflect the range of issues people with different disabilities might experience and include:

Issue 1: Tactile Ground Surface Indicators (TGSIs)

Issue 2: Handrails on stairways

Issue 3: Nosings on stairways

Issue 4: Open risers on stairways

Issue 5: Handrails and kerb rails on ramps

Issue 6: Visual indicators on fully glazed doors and side lights

Issue 7: Door opening requirements

Issue 8: Door sills

Issue 9: Reception desks and counters

Issue 10: Signage required by the Building Code of Australia (BCA)

Issue 11: Lift call buttons

Issue 12: Floor surfaces

Issue 13: Accessible WC's

The structure of each section includes:

•  Importance of the feature

•  Code requirements

•  Achieving best results

•  Common problems and misinterpretations

As I mentioned earlier The good, the bad and the ugly is not an attempt to replace parts of the BCA or Australian Standards with words and pictures. It aims to encourage those involved in the design, construction and certification of buildings to better understand the reasons for the technical specifications for access and encourages them to be vigorous in their application.

On the day this resource was released on our webpage I received a number of e mails from architects and building consultants, which I think sum up what I am trying to say here. An architect from Queensland wrote:

Just a quick note of thanks for this paper. It puts flesh and blood meaning into an anonymous Code which all too often is seen by building designers as more bureaucratic red tape to be hurdled before gaining approval, rather than a positive guide to assisting access and mobility. (Architect Qld)

And a Building Consultant company in WA got it right when they wrote to me and said:

I have just read through your most informative material on The Good the bad and the ugly .  There should be more like this on all significant issues to do with the building.  Simple to follow, informative and with enough information to send the reader to the BCA! (Building Consultants in WA)

If as a result of The good, the bad and the ugly we can "send the reader to the BCA" then I think we will have done well.

The resource is on the Commission's website at or copies of the free CD can be obtained from the Publications Officer at or telephone 1300 369 711

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