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Disability access standards lauded

  • March 15, 2010
  • Bruce Bromley

All new buildings will be required to have adequate disabled access under new broad standards aimed at evening things up for the disabled community.

The scheme has been lauded as an unprecedented move opening the door to those with a disability, giving them greater access to employment, services and the community as a whole.

For the first time in Australia, the Standards for Access to Premises – as announced by the federal government on Monday – sets minimum access requirements for buildings.

It covers stairs, ramps, toilets and corridors and will apply to all new office buildings, shops, hotels, B&Bs and even the common areas of apartment blocks.

The new rules apply from May 1, 2011.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the standards were about addressing the “practical realities of what can reasonably be required and enforced”.

Existing buildings will also be compelled to make accessibility changes under the proposal, although only if there’s significant upgrade work being undertaken.

Exclusions, meanwhile, also apply for those who cannot fulfil the requirements because it would cause “unjustifiable hardship” – a move that has won the support of Australia’s peak construction body.

Master Builders Australia said the concession was significant as the industry struggles to recover from the global financial downturn.

It has otherwise welcomed the standards, as have carers groups, who say it signals a marked change from the days when sending a disabled person to use the goods lift equalled adequate access.

Carers Alliance secretary Mary-Lou Carter said change in behaviours would only come through changes made through law.

“Disability is really the next frontier when it comes to valuing people and being able to access things on the same level as everyone else,” she told AAP.

She says it will make a real difference for those with a mobility, hearing or vision impairments and make life more inclusive for them.

“It’s just about that aspect of life where you use something universally – like a ramp at a school, it’s not just for the person in a wheelchair but for their friends too.”

The government will review the standards after five years.

Mr McClelland said the commonwealth would work with the states and territories to ensure compliance.

He’s also taken a lead role in pushing the reform.

“I am proud to say that the new Attorney-General’s department building, which was completed in 2009, was built in accordance with the draft standards,” he said.

“This demonstrates that accessible architecture is not only possible – it is the way of the future.”

While the standards were fantastic, Ms Carter said she hoped it was the start of something bigger.

“It’s baby steps, baby steps all the time,” she said.

“People with disabilities are very patient, but in the 21st century, we can’t get away from the fact that that patience can end.

“We can speed up.”

She’d like to see the standards for public transport tightened so that it is no longer just accessible to “five per cent of the population to use it”.