Code opens doors to disabled

  • March 15, 2010
  • Bruce Bromley

SHOPS, hotels and offices will soon be forced to widen corridors, install ramps and renovate toilets under new rules to improve access for the elderly, disabled and families with prams.

The Rudd government will today announce minimum access requirements for public buildings built or renovated from May 1 next year.

For the first time, uniform building rules will be mandated across Australia to end the isolation felt by as many as 4 million people who cannot use many public facilities. These go beyond buildings – to swimming pools and cinemas.

Disability discrimination commissioner Graeme Innes, who is blind, said the rules were ”the biggest building reforms for people with disabilities in Australia’s history”.

”As a person with a disability I feel pleased our society is moving to fully include me,” he said.

The rules will also apply to common areas of rental apartment blocks.

Parliamentary secretary for disabilities Bill Shorten said the laws would help end years of ”practical apartheid” excluding people with disabilities.
”If you couldn’t enter a building because of your skin colour or gender, there’d be a human outcry. Yet everyday, people with disabilities have that sort of embarrassment,” he said.

Mr Shorten gave examples of ”unthinking barriers”: the step that kept people from entering a shop; the narrow restaurant door that forced diners through the kitchen around the back; or escalators too fast to catch. Costs imposed on businesses would be ”minimal” and could be recouped in increased trade, he said, as more buildings opened up to more customers.

NSW Property Council executive director Ken Morrison acknowledged the extra costs for building owners, but said he believed ”it is better to have some certainty for builders and building owners”.

The standards had been discussed for a decade and will be reviewed in five years.