Negotiating the Risk in Disability Standards

Louise Street , 8 July 2014

What are the risks involved with Disability Standards? An event report on ACA – Qld’s lunchtime forum.

More than 40 people attended the recent Lunch Forum presented by Bryce Tolliday on “Negotiating the risks of the Disability Standards”.

Bryce, an access consultant (ACAA accredited member) based in South East Queensland, highlighted that there are three Disability Standards under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) that have something to say about building design. The Premises Standards and Transport Standards are contained, in part, within the National Construction Code (NCC), whereas the Education Standards are not. He also pointed out that a large number of disabilities are not covered by the current NCC exposing designers to potential complaint under the DDA should their designs disadvantage people with these disabilities.

During the presentation, Bryce also looked at how the current suite of Australian Standards (AS1428) have limited application even within the NCC, for example, and demonstrated that the application of AS1428.1–2009 may not be appropriate to Primary or Secondary Schools or to Aged Care projects due to the standard being based on research for an age demographic between the age of 18 and 60 years of age.

He also discussed how the “Baby Boomers” are now having a significant impact on the numbers of people with disabilities and the types of disabilities this group have now or will have in the future and explained how a significant number of people will be legally blind (860,000 by 2020) or have severe hearing loss (600,000 by 2020) and although AS1428 is being further developed to address this shift in future editions of the NCC, it currently falls far short of addressing the needs of these people at the moment.

In closing, an issue was raised about Building Certifiers offering access consulting advice when they have no experience or qualification in these areas. Bryce stated that, apart from the obvious conflict of interest, this practice is adding risk to the building design in two ways. Firstly, due to inappropriate application of literal interpretations of standard. Secondly, as a result of limited knowledge, the absence of a complete appraisal of design proposals which embrace the needs of all people with disabilities, particularly those not currently addressed by the NCC. Bryce considers this to be the greatest risk currently facing designers.

Louise Street is ACA – Qld/NT Executive Officer.