The Disability Standards (Premises Standards) Are Due To Come Into Force On 1 May 2011.

Premises Standards – improving building access for all Australians

Premises Standards – improving building access for all Australians

Background

Since the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) came into force in March 1993 complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission and state/territory anti-discrimination agencies have shown that while a building might meet the requirements of building law it could still be the subject of a successful complaint under anti-discrimination law.

This inconsistency covers both the level of access required (for example, the area of coverage of a hearing augmentation system in a conference room) and the amenity of the access provided (for example, the location of unisex accessible toilets and location of accessible entrances and doorways).

Since 1995, progressive changes to the national building code – the Building Code of Australia (BCA) - have been made to address these inconsistencies. The process was provided with significant momentum in 2000, when the federal government amended the DDA to allow for the development of Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards (Premises Standards).

It is envisaged that the effect of the Premises Standards would be that owners, developers and managers of buildings used by the public would be able to meet the objectives of the DDA (as they apply to buildings) by meeting the requirements of the Premises Standards. In the absence of these standards, people with a disability, owners and developers would continue having to rely on the individual complaints mechanism of the DDA as the only means of defining compliance.

Rather than develop Premises Standards as a separate and additional code to be followed by the building industry the intention is, once the Premises Standards are complete, to change the BCA access provisions to reflect the requirements within the Premises Standards.

This will mean that the building industry can continue to use the new BCA confident that compliance with a new BCA would ensure compliance with the Premises Standards, and therefore, the DDA.

The development of the Premises Standards

In 2001, the federal Government asked the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) to develop proposals for a Premises Standards. The ABCB established the Building Access Policy Committee (BAPC), which included representatives from government, people with a disability, building professionals and the property sector.

The BAPC developed draft Premises Standards which were released for public comment in 2004. Following consultation, members of the BAPC tried to find agreement on how to finalise the draft. However, there were significant differences of view on some key issues including, for example, circulation space dimensions, access to upper floors in small buildings and whether or not to require access to common areas in apartment blocks.

In 2005 the ABCB sent a report to government identifying areas where agreement could not be reached and where Government needed to make final decisions.

In late 2008, the Government held more discussions with representatives from the disability and building sectors and, in December 2008, presented a draft Premises Standards to Parliament. This draft was immediately referred to a Parliamentary Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs for investigation.

During the first half of 2009 the Committee conducted a number of public hearings and received over 140 submissions. The Committee delivered its report to Parliament in June 2009 and made a number of recommendations for changes to the draft. Most of the recommendations were adopted in the final standards  www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/laca/disabilitystandards/report.htm

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