AUST – HENDRY disability access consultants advise that one of the major changes to impact on the Built Environment in recent times has been the improvements to the commonality of the disability access provisions for buildings in the Building Code of Australia (BCA) and the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010. These enhancements have substantially harmonised the BCA with the Disability Discrimination Act, and as a result, the integration of the disability access code with the BCA carries significant implications for building owners and tenants generally. While Aged Care facilities tend to be better designed for mobility needs and access due to their design intent and the needs of their occupants, Aged Care facility owners and providers may also find that additional disability access requirements need to be met if new buildings or alterations to existing buildings are planned.

The Premises Standards contain detailed disability access information specifying rhe circumstances and types of building where the Standards apply, and they apply to a new building, a new part of an existing building, and the affected part of an existing building. A BCA Access Audit should be performed by a building surveyor before commencing any design work.

Disability Access Terminology

For disability access, the affected part of a building means:

  • The principal pedestrian entrance of an existing building that contains a new part and
  • Any part of an existing building that contains a new part, that is necessary to provide a continuous accessible path of travel from the entrance to the new part

Generally speaking, the affected part of a building must comply with the new access requirements where alterations and/or additions are proposed to an existing building, and the proposed work is subject to a building permit/complying development certificate or construction certificate.

The affected part of the building, relative to disability access, does not apply to:

  • Existing parts of buildings outside the area of the new work and the affected part upgrade      
  • An accessway from the allotment boundary, from ant accessible car parking space on the allotment or between other buildings on the allotment.

Upgrading works for an affected part may include the following disability access works:

  • Accessibility of upper floors to the new work
  • Providing lift access features such as Braille or tactile buttons
  • Signage
  • Removing a step at a building entrance
  • Upgrading handrails on a ramp
  • Minimum width requirements of doorways or passageways, including passing and turning spaces.

When Disability Access Provisions Apply

Lessees submitting an application for building approval for the building work to their leased area only, do not need to ensure that the affected part of the building complies with the Premises Standards for disability access.

However, this disability access concession does not apply if the new part is within a building with only one lessee. Note that for building owners who make alterations or upgrades to their buildings, the Premises Standards provisions will apply regardless of whether the building is mutli-tenated or not.

The Premises Standards makes some limited disability access concessions for existing lifts and disabled persons toilets under certain circumstances, and there is also a general exemption for areas where providing access would be inappropriate because of the purpose for which the area is used, such as a fire lookout tower for example, or to areas that would pose a health or safety risk for people with a disability.

Existing buildings that are not undergoing any alterations or change of use are not required to be upgraded to comply with the BCA disability access provisions. However the existing building could still be the subject of a compliant under the Disability Discrimination Act, and the case made that the building does not meet the general requirements for disability access in accordance with the Premises Standards.

While an application can be made on the grounds of unjustifiable disability access hardship, the extent of documentation that must be submitted with the application, (including financial position and so forth) is likely to make the process a difficult one that will receive serious scrutiny by the applicable State or Territory Appeals authority, and ultimately, unjustifiable hardship may only be conclusively determined by a Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court.

Implications of Disability Access for Aged Care Buildings Owners and Providers

The circumstances under which these provisions will prevail will in all likelihood be tested going forward, but there is no doubt that the provisions for disability access code compliance have been significantly strengthened, and the scope for dispensations significantly curtailed.

These new disability access provisions will ultimately impact on most building owners and tenants, and while full compliance at this point in time may not be the objective, disability access appraisals can be conducted to establish the Aged Care facility’s current disability access position, and assistance can be given in formulating the strategy and the costing necessary to move progressively toward an acceptable future compliance outcome.

Building Legislation Table

Refer to our Building Legislation table for further information on the building control process.