5 Accessibility Features to Look for in a Building

Whenever we go into buildings, accessibility and ease of navigation is our top concern. But how do we know these two factors are ensured? The National Construction Code nominates that accessible access is to be provided to the degree necessary to enable people to: 

(i) approach the building from the road boundary and from any accessible car parking spaces associated with the building; and

(ii) approach the building from any accessible associated building; and

(iii) access work and public spaces, accommodation and facilities for personal hygiene

Australian Standard, AS1428.1:2009 nominates that A continuous accessible path of travel shall not include a step, stairway, turnstile, revolving door, escalator, moving walk or other impediment and that the minimum width of a path of travel is to be 1m clear.

Compliance with these requirements requires additional features to assist persons with disabilities navigate the built environment..

Here are 5 accessibility features to look out for..

  1. Accessible features of Ramps and Stairs

Handrails provide assistance and stability to people with mobility requirements while wheelchair-bound people use handrails and kerb rails to help them navigate ramps with ease. 

There are four (4)  types of ramps available to designers to address changes in levels within the building environment. Theses ramps are:

  • Threshold Ramps located at external doorways to address small changes in levels to a maximum height of 35mm where the maximum gradient is 1:8
  • Kerb ramps are usually located externally and are associated with transitions between roadways or driveways with pedestrian pavements. Kerb Ramps address changes in levels to a maximum of 190mm where the maximum gradient is 1:8. TGSIs (Tactile indicators) are required where the gradient is shallower than 1:8 or 1:8.5.
  • Step ramps are associated with changes in levels to a maximum of 190mm where the maximum gradient is 1:10. Step ramps require the provision of handrails or dwarf walls.TGSIs (Tactile indicators) are not required.
  • Ramps with gradients between 1:20 and 1:14 are most common. The maximum length of these ramps is 9m before a 1200mm landing is required to be provided. The detailing of these ramps requires the provision of 30-50mm diameter handrails with handrail extensions at the top and bottom of the ramp length. A kerb rail is required along the length of the ramp to assist wheelchair users. TGSIs (Tactile indicators) are required with this ramp type.

Accessible paths of travel with gradients shallower than 1:20 are considered walkways and not ramps. All ramps are required to have slip resistant surfaces. NCC Table D2.14 nominates the minimum slip resistance requirements for ramps in both wet and dry conditions.

Stairs are also an important part of accessibility design and are usually provided adjacent to a lift or ramp. Stairs are generally considered as either fire stairs located within a fire rated shaft or circulation stairs. It is well researched that many trips and falls occur on stairways which reinforces the necessity for competent design of stairs and handrail.

The NCC nominates that stairs are to be slip resistant, nosings that are slip resistant and provide a 30% luminous contrast are to be applied to each going, suitable handrails to provide assistance and stability and suitable landings to minimise fatigue.

Fire stairways require the provisions of nosing to each going and a minimum of a single handrail. Circulation stairs require handrails to both sides of the flights, compliant handrail extensions, nosing applied to each going and the provisions of TGSIs at each level of the stair flight. TGSIs are not required at mid landings unless additional persons are being added to the stair system.

  1. Doors & Corridors for Wheelchair Access

Doors and corridors must be wide enough for wheelchairs to navigate and enter with the ideal wheelchair door size – having a clear opening width of at least 850mm. Meanwhile, a wheelchair corridor width must have ample space for wheelchair-bound individuals to pivot and manoeuvre with ease and is recommended to be at least 1000mm. The National Construction Code nominates the required circulation at doorways requirements to be satisfied.

Doors (other than fire rated doors) fitted with door closers must also be able to be operated with a 20N maximum force so that a person with a disability, especially someone with hand or motor issues, can open it with ease. 

To mark the transition from doorways and corridor walls, the adjacent walls must also provide enough contrast in colour to visually guide people with vision impairment.

  1. Braille Tactile Signs 

It is so easy to ignore signs but for those who are vision impaired or wheelchair-bound, accessible and readable signs are a great help in providing information about the area and orienting them spatially. 

As a minimum, Statutory Braille Tactile signs identifying entrances, exits, WC locations, locations where hearing augmentation is provided, and lift and level information is required to be provided.

Australian Standard AS1428.4.2:2018 has been prepared to provide guidance to way-finding signage including directory boards, room indicators and Braille tactile maps often located in public buildings such as shopping centres, airports and cinemas.

The detailing of Braille tactile signs will need to satisfy the provisions of NCC Specification D3.6.

  1. Passenger Lifts

Lifts provide accessible access between multiple levels. The following accessible lift types are available to provide accessible access:

  • Stairway platform lift
  • Low rise platform lift with a max rise of 1m
  • Low rise platform lift (enclosed) with a max rise of 4m
  • Low rise platform lift (unenclosed) with a max rise of 2m
  • Passenger lift

The sizing of passenger lifts depends on the travel distance of the lift . As a minimum accessible passenger lifts must measure at least 1,100mm x 1,400mm with a door opening of at least 900mm wide. There must also be a handrail and good lighting inside the elevator car. 

Another good sign that accessibility was in mind while designing the lift is the presence of elevator button and emergency access panel at sitting height. There should also be visible and tactile signs to provide directional information.

Many public buildings are introducing Destination Control Systems to improve the efficiency of the lift service. This system is not assistive to persons with vision impairment as the call button and lift location are often disassociated. Lift installations with Destination Control Systems are only suitable where a concierge function is provided at the main lobby. At the upper levels the system is reliant on familiarity of lift geography or that persons with vision impairment are assisted.

  1. Adult Change Facilities Public Toilet

Accessible adult change facilities are required to be provided to shopping centres, Stadiums, public swimming pools, museums, theatres and airports where the design populations meet the requirements nominated at NCC Clause F2.9. 

The specific design details of Accessible adult change facilities are identified at NCC Specification F2.9.

Having a mandated Adult Change Facility public toilet for persons with disabilities will definitely make frequenting entertainment and leisure establishments a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

While not mandatory, it is also highly recommended other leisure spots such as hospitals, universities, schools, zoos and libraries follow suit and include Accessible adult change facilities.

So, what’s the difference between a regular public toilet and an Adult Changing Facility? For one, an accessible Adult Change Facility is a secure room with an automatic door opening, non-slip vinyl flooring, and a height-adjustable changing table.

Another wonderful addition is a shower area which might be useful, especially for sports venues or near beaches.

To see whether your favourite sporting venue or shopping centre has a certified Changing Places public toilet, head over to Changing Places Australia or the National Public Toilet Map. These two have a comprehensive list of Adult Changing Facilities.

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