Why is Accessibility Important?
About 4.4 millions Australians live with a disability. For 77 per cent of these people their main form of disability is physical,[i] which makes it difficult for them to access public areas without some form of assistance.
Fortunately, there are laws around accessibility standards to ensure people with diasabilities are not disadvantaged.
What kind of access do you need to consider?
The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) makes it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their disability. One of the areas covered is the access to public premises. By definition, this includes:
- public footpaths and walkways
- educational institutions
- shops and department stores
- cafes, restaurants and pubs
- parks, public swimming pools, public toilets and pedestrian malls
- banks, credit unions and building societies
- cinemas, theatres and other places of entertainment
- lawyers’ offices and legal services
- sporting venues, sporting clubs and social clubs
- government offices and government-run services
- dentist and doctor surgeries
- hairdresser and beauty salons
- public transport including trains, buses, ferries, boats, ships and planes
As part of the DDA, there are legally-binding standards outlining technical requirements to ensure that people with disability can access and use public premises.
Legal requirements for disability standards
Disability discrimination occurs when a person with a disability is treated less favourably, or not given the same opportunities as others in a similar situation. Disability can be temporary or permanent. It may also be a physical, intellectual, sensory, neurological, learning or psychosocial disability. Disability discrimination also covers people who have a disease or illness; physical disfigurement; or medical condition or work-related injury.
The DDA also protects people with disability who may be discriminated against because they are accompanied by an assistant, interpreter or reader; or a trained animal such as a guide, hearing or assistance dog; or because they use equipment or an aid, such as a wheelchair or a hearing aid.
It’s important to note that even if discrimination in unintentional or indirect, it’s still classified as discrimination. One of the most common ways unintentional discrimination occurs is lack of access for disabiled people.
Tips to improve access
Having a disability can make it difficult to access public premises. While many people automatically think of physical disabilities as a barrier, other disabilities that can make access difficult include vision impairment and hearing impairment. The following tips can help you ensure that your premises remain accessible for people with disabilities.
- Keep accessible bathrooms or lifts unlocked so they can be used by members of the public
- Ensure people can reach these bathrooms by travelling a continuous accessible path.
- Do not use accessible bathrooms or change rooms for storage.
- Do not construct temporary displays or stack goods in a way that obstructs aisles.
- Ensure the heights of counters, lift buttons, EFTPOS facilities, door handles, etc. can be reached by a person using a wheelchair.
- Lift buttons should have raised tactile and Braille information next to them.
- Lifts should provide audible information telling passengers what floor they have arrived at.
- Maintain adequate and appropriate lighting in all areas.
- Provide adequate signage for people with disability accessing or using the premises.
- Take care that surfaces are not worn or slippery.
- Ensure that there is wheelchair access for people including wheelchair ramps, wide entrance doors and enough room for people in wheelchairs to turn around.
- Provide designated parking spaces for people with disabilities and maintain a continuous accessible path of travel from the parking space to the premises.
Do I need a permit to build a wheelchair ramp?
Wheelchair access is an important consideration when it comes to considering accessibility for people with disability. Access ramps enable people with wheelchairs and other mobility aids to enter or exit a building. Access ramps can be permanent fixtures or temporary fixtures that can be set up when needed. If you want to add a permanent access ramp to your home or other structure, you will need a building permit. However, permits are not required to use temporary ramp.
How to choose a wheelchair ramp
There are many different types of wheelchair ramps so it’s important to consider a number of thing to make sure you choose the right one for you. These include:
- Will the ramp be permanent or temporary?
- Where will the ramp be located?
- How long, high and wide does the ramp need to be?
The answers to these will help you determine what materials the ramp will be made of and whether you need to engage a builder to instal one. They will also help you work out the type of temporary ramp you require. Choices available include:
- portable ramps — foldable, non-foldable and telescopic ramps that can be adjusted for length
- threshold ramps — which can be used in doorways or over sliding door rails
- van and vehicle ramps — foldable, non-foldable and telescopic options to help get your wheelchair into a vehicle
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s made to standard out of quality materials.
Where can you go for more information?
You can find out more about access and disability in here.
You can also search a range of wheelchair ramps at Mobility Aids Australia.
Celebrate access and inclusion for people with a physical disability at the 2021 Independence Australia Accessibility weekend.
This event is being held on the 14th and 15th of November and offers FREE access to a variety of Victoria’s favourite attractions for people who use a wheelchair or mobility aid, and their carer. Find out more at https://www.accessibilityweekend.com.au/
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, People with disability in Australia, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/disability/people-with-disability-in-australia/contents/people-with-disability/prevalence-of-disability
Australian Human Rights Commission, Access for all: Improving accessibility for consumers with disability, https://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/employers/access-all-improving-accessibility-consumers-disability#fn1
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