This page belongs to: Premises Standards Review 2021
Approximately 80% of the input into the review came from:
- people with disability
- their families and carers
- representatives from the disability sector.
We also received feedback from:
- all levels of government
- building industry stakeholders, including developers, building managers, certifiers and industry peak bodies.
Many themes and issues converged during stakeholder engagement activities across the stages of the review. Based on the 251 stakeholder responses, we identified 7 broad themes (Figure 4):
- consistency and clarity (mentioned by 18.7% of respondents)
- access and egress (mentioned by 42.2% of respondents)
- compliance (mentioned by 48.2% of respondents)
- communication and wayfinding (mentioned by 21.9% of respondents)
- toilet and change room provisions (mentioned by 27.5% of respondents)
- environmental sensitivities (mentioned by 35.5% of respondents)
- other themes that are either in scope or intersect with other standards (mentioned by 9.2% of respondents).
Some issues appeared in multiple themes. Grouping these issues into sub-themes clarified the most prominent issues for each stakeholder group: people with disability, building professionals, employers and governments.
Consistency and clarity
Stakeholders responded that consistency across all disability standards and the other regulatory mechanisms interacting with the Premises Standards are important.
The other standards operating under the Disability Discrimination Act are:
- Disability Standards for Education 2005 (Education Standards)
- Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 (Transport Standards).
The disability standards listed above reference various Australian Standards. Each of these disability standards and other regulatory mechanisms has a specific role and function. The disability standards are reviewed and amended at different times, creating gaps or inconsistencies between those standards.
Consistency and clarity issues were raised in 18.7% of submissions, as shown in Figure 5. Nearly half the submissions from the building industry and governments discussed consistency and clarity. Alignment with the National Construction Code (NCC) (12.4% of the submissions), Australian Standards (7.6% of the submissions) and Transport Standards (6% of the submissions) emerged as an important sub-themes. Only 4% of the submissions discussed on states and territories legislations.
Examples of issues
Many stakeholders emphasised the importance of:
- full alignment between the Premises Standards, the Transport Standards and the NCC
- a holistic approach to disability policy design and implementation.
Stakeholders argued that a holistic approach was necessary for enabling a whole of journey experience and minimising non-compliance with standards due to confusion.
Due to differences in amendment timing, the potential for misalignment between the Premises Standards and the NCC is a concern. This misalignment could cause inconsistency in provisions and confusion for building professionals and government officials. This could make it difficult for people to comply with their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act.
There is inconsistency between the Premises Standards and Transport Standards over the width of an accessible path of travel (or passageway). The width of a path or circulation area is often referenced in percentiles. The 80th and 90th percentile dimensions refer to the dimensions of building features required to allow the adequate manoeuvring of 80 per cent or 90 per cent of wheelchairs. The 80th percentile (or A80) wheelchair footprint represents the size of 80 percent of all wheelchairs (sampled at the time), and the 90th percentile (or A90) wheelchair footprint represents the size of 90 percent of all wheelchairs (sampled at the time). The Premises Standards uses both the 80th and 90th percentile dimensions, depending on the area within the building. However, the Transport Standards always use 90th percentile dimensions.
Misalignment of the Premises Standards, Transport Standards and Australian Standards can create significant confusion for building professionals and barriers for people living with disability. Current differences between these standards relate to:
- luminance contrast
- door circulation
- hearing augmentation
“There is still a lot of confusion within our (building) industry when it comes to what legislation needs to be adhered to, applied and the hierarchy of legislation.”
“There are various instruments prescribing aspects of building accessibility and that it can be difficult for developers to understand which standards to build to, to be compliant with the [Disability Discrimination Act].”
“Consider how the Premises Standards and the Transport Standards currently interact and ensure there is consistency between the 2 standards.”
Access and egress
Access and egress refer to the entries and exits from premises as well as movements within a public building. The Premises Standards have several provisions related to entries, exits and movements within public buildings and spaces. Submissions from the discovery stage of the review said that access and egress provisions could be improved.
Access and egress issues were raised in 42.2% of submissions (Figure 6), making this the second-most raised theme. 35% of submissions from the disability sector discussed access and egress, making it the most discussed issue by the disability sector. A substantially smaller number of buildings industry submissions discussed access and egress.
Key sub-themes emerging were:
- continuous path of travel (37.1% of submissions), with the need for pathways consultation identified as focus areas, and
- accessible car-parking (14.7% of submissions), with the need for carpark ratio consultation identified as focus areas.
37.1% of submissions mentioned continuous path of travel. Drilling down further reveals:
- 27.9% of submissions mentioned pathways
- 12% mentioned automatic doors
- 9.2% mentioned the 80th and 90th percentile wheelchair dimensions
- 6.4% mentioned universal access
- 4% mentioned emergency egress
- 2.4% mentioned priority seating.
14.7% of submissions mentioned accessible car parking. Drilling down further reveals:
- 10% of submissions mentioned carpark ratios
- 4.7% mentioned carpark access
- 2% mentioned carpark size.
Examples of issues
Stakeholders raised a range of specific issues about access and egress. They suggested the Premises Standards could help address these issues with stronger requirements and clearer guidance.
Stakeholders noted that many public buildings have heavy manual doors that are difficult to open, particularly in a wheelchair or mobility scooter. This can hinder the accessibility of a building and negate the benefits of other accessibility features. For example, a building may have accessible car-parking spaces and lifts with verbal cues, but a heavy manual door between the carpark and lift bay can negate the benefits of these features.
The availability of accessible car-parking spaces was another issue raised as a barrier to accessing buildings. Under the Premises Standards, the ratio of accessible car-parking spaces required depends on the building class. Generally, it ranges from one accessible car-parking space per 50 spaces to one per 100. But according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2018), 17.7% of Australians live with disability. This may indicate a need for a higher ratio of accessible public carparks.
Only limited data is available on the number of disabled parking permits issued across Australia. However, New South Wales Government data shows that 1,318,835 mobility parking permits (include temporary permits) were issued in 2010, and 1,657,119 were issued in 2020. This is a 25% increase in permits issued in NSW in 10 years. If this trend is consistent across Australia, it may point to a growing need for more accessible car-parking spaces. However, further data analysis and research are needed to determine this.
Other issues raised include the size and location of accessible car-parking spaces. Many stakeholders suggested that accessible parking is not ‘one size fits all’. For example, a person in a motorised wheelchair may need a significantly larger space than someone who does not require a wheelchair. Distance of accessible car spaces from the entrance to a building was also a concern.
“Ramps are placed at a further distance and are less accessible to people with mobility and visual impairment issues.”
“Heavy entry doors that are problematic to those with arthritis or on mobility scooters.”
“Disabled parking are not always in the best locations, and not always enough of it. Provide more disability parking in areas likely to have more aged/disabled demographics.”
“The goal should be to provide access in a way that doesn't tag it as a special feature. Accessibility as far as possible should disappear so that it's not stigmatised, e.g. if levels are dealt with correctly, there should be no need for a ramp.”
Case study: Pam and Peter
Pam Gaston is diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has only 18% percent lung capacity. She suffers from chronic shortness of breath, requires oxygen at all times and relies on a scooter for mobility.
Pam and her husband, Peter Olley, moved into their current residence in 2017. They purchased the apartment off the plan because it was advertised as having adaptable units that were designed to consider the needs of people living with disability. Pam and Peter checked the plans to ensure the building had access ramps, appropriate ventilation and the correct door widths for mobility scooter accessibility.
After moving in, Pam realised that she was unable to operate certain doors in the apartment complex while using her mobility scooter. This was because the doors are heavy and manually operated. They are located in communal areas, including:
- the apartment’s entrance
- building foyer
- fire exits
- gymnasium (with disability-accessible bathroom facilities)
- recreation area
- swimming pool (provided with an accessible hoist).
Pam relies on assistance from others to open the doors for her. Peter has said this has impacted Pam’s and his own wellbeing and limited Pam’s independence. One estimate for replacing common area manual doors with automatic doors was approximately $200,000. As there are around 356 units in the complex, this would cost around $560 per unit.
The Premises Standards review received a number of submissions from stakeholders raising similar issues about accessibility requirements for Class 2 buildings like the apartment complex where Pam and Peter live. The Premises Standards only apply when a Class 2 building includes short-term accommodation. As platforms like Airbnb grow in popularity, stakeholders want greater clarification, or an update to the legislation, so that the Premises Standards are relevant for Class 2 building design, planning and use.
The Premises Standards and NCC set out minimum requirements for compliance for Class 2 buildings. As mentioned in the AHRC’s Guideline on the application of the Premises Standards, there is nothing to prevent builders, building owners or building managers adopting a best-practice approach that provides accessibility provisions beyond these minimum requirements.
The performance requirements outlined in the Access Code of the Premises Standards are duplicated in the National Construction Code (NCC). They are also referenced in state and territory building legislation and regulations.
State and territory governments are responsible for building regulation and compliance, including enforcing the performance requirements in the Premises Standards. Building regulations are generally enforced by a registered building certifier signing off a building as compliant.
People with disability stated that equating building certification with compliance with the Premises Standards meant they could not resolve their human rights complaint at the state or territory level.
People with disability said that the Disability Discrimination Act did not give them with tools to resolve their access issues. They also told us the compliance, enforcement and penalty regimes were insufficient to deter non-compliance.
Some consultation participants emphasised the need for better enforcement of the Premises Standards and more serious consequences for non-compliance. They suggested more audit and reporting processes as possible improvements for enforcing the Premises Standards.
Compliance was raised in 48.2% of total submissions (Figure 7), making it the most frequently raised issue. Compliance was discussed in more than half of government and building industry submissions and nearly half of submissions from the disability sector. This suggests that compliance is a priority issue for all stakeholders.
The key sub-themes emerging from submissions were:
- education and training (30.3% of submissions), with the need for guidance and additional consultation identified as focus areas
- complaint process (14.7% of submissions)
- auditing and enforcement (12.7% of submissions)
- old and heritage listed buildings (12.4% of submissions)
- unjustifiable hardship (3.2% of submissions).
Examples of issues
Many stakeholders felt compliance would improve if the building industry increased its knowledge and understanding of the requirements under the Premises Standards. Participants suggested that more guidance on the Premises Standards’ requirements and implementation should be made available.
Participants emphasised that building certifiers have a duty to ensure a building is compliant with the requirements of the Premises Standards. They also suggested that building professionals should undertake continuing professional development on accessibility requirements.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has the power to investigate and resolve complaints of unlawful discrimination on the grounds of disability, including access to premises. If AHRC mediation is unsuccessful and a complaint remains unresolved, the complainant may pursue action through the Federal Court.
However, stakeholders felt the complaints process needs to be made clearer, simpler and less burdensome. Complainants are unsure where to go to lodge complaints. They also felt that when they make a complaint, they often do not receive a satisfactory resolution.
Taking a complaint to court is a time-consuming and expensive process. Very few people appear to be willing or able to take this step if mediation or compliance action cannot resolve the issue.
“Compliance with the standards should be monitored, and longitudinal data collected to track progress towards meeting the standards. Mechanisms for determining compliance need to be consistent across the states and territories.”
”Although there are rights to lodge valid complaints to various authorities, these options are time-consuming and ultimately pointless on a personal basis, as nothing comes of any follow-up communication.”
“Responsibility in ensuring compliance rests with building certifiers, who approve the construction plan for the relevant building. But in reality, Australians with disability are required to play an active role in enforcement as well.”
Case study: Peter Ryan v Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service
In 2019, Peter John Ryan made a complaint to the AHRC about the Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (SCHHS). Mr Ryan is a wheelchair user and has approximately 2% usable vision. He regularly attended SCHHS for treatment of several medical conditions.
SCHHS is a large public tertiary teaching hospital that opened to patients in 2017. The Premises Standards applied at the time SCHHS was designed and constructed.
Mr Ryan claimed that certain design and construction elements of SCHHS unlawfully discriminated against him on the basis of his disabilities. Mediation through the AHRC was unsuccessful, so the matter was referred to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. The court accepted that Mr Ryan and people with a similar level of impairment had been seriously disadvantaged in accessing and navigating the SCHHS building reasonably, practically and with dignity. This was due to ineffective and insufficient raised tactile signage and wayfinding systems.
The ruling identified another key issue: the lack of luminance contrast for glazed walls next to access ways, pedestrian spaces, lift lobbies and glass balustrades. The court found that it was unreasonable to rely on SCHHS volunteers to assist people with vision impairment who become disoriented.
An interesting aspect of this case is that, while some issues related to non-compliance with the NCC and Premises Standards, others were found to be unlawful under the Disability Discrimination Act. This was possible because the Act uses a complaints-based dispute resolution mechanism, rather than setting out a minimum standard like the NCC and Premises Standards.
This case shows that buildings may need to be designed beyond the minimum requirements set out in the NCC and Premises Standards to reasonably accommodate the accessibility needs of their users and be compliant under the Act. This is supported by the AHRC’s Guideline on the application of the Premises Standards, which states that ‘there is nothing in the Premises Standards to stop a developer from providing greater levels of access than required’.
Court-ordered rectification works at SCHHS are expected to cost tens of millions of dollars. This shows that rectification is often more difficult and expensive than addressing accessibility during building design.
This case also points to the complexity of large building projects and supports the need for updated guidance material, as recommended by Action 2a and Action 2b.
Communication and wayfinding
Wayfinding refers to building features that let people with disability:
- locate where they are within the environment
- independently navigate that environment.
The Premises Standards include some wayfinding requirements, such as:
- signage to accessible toilets and accessible entrances
- signage of spaces with hearing augmentation
- tactile ground surface indicators to warn of hazards.
Communication and wayfinding was raised as an issue in 21.9% of total submissions (Figure 8). Most of the submissions discussing communication and wayfinding were from governments and the disability sector. The number of submissions from the building industry discussing communication and wayfinding were very low.
The most common sub-themes were signage (15.1% of submissions) and luminance contrast (11.2% of submissions). Luminance contrast is the difference in the amount of light reflected from a darker building element compared to a lighter building element.
15.1% of submissions mentioned signage. They raised issues around:
- tactile flooring
- use of technology
11.2% of submissions mentioned luminance contrast. They raised issues around:
- colour and contrast
6% of submissions mentioned hearing augmentation. They raised issues around:
- building acoustics
- hearing aids
Examples of issues
Stakeholders told us that signage and communication systems in buildings are generally inadequate for effective wayfinding. They also told us that the requirements in the Premises Standards are insufficient.
Participants noted that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution for effective communication and wayfinding. Information and signage should be provided in a range of ways to cater to diverse needs. However, participants noted this could pose a barrier to developing clear and universal standards for wayfinding.
Participants said that technology could significantly improve the accessibility of communication and wayfinding for some. Technology that could help includes:
- Bindi Maps, a mobile location app for indoor spaces
- touch screens
- QR codes
- verbal and auditory cues and directions
- video prompts
For example, a number of stakeholders found wayfinding easier when lifts have verbal cues. However, some cautioned that there shouldn't be an over-reliance on technology to provide effective wayfinding.
Some stakeholders felt that wayfinding could be improved by standardising signage practices, particularly around:
- images and symbols
- the inclusion of braille.
A particular point raised in consultations was the lack of consistency and compliance with luminance contrast requirements.
“The review should focus on the accessibility of technology that increasingly forms an element in building infrastructure, such as touchscreen-based lift destination control systems, touchscreen or and other visual displays required to use accessible bathrooms.”
“For someone with legal blindness the impact of glare on them is like you getting a cramp in your leg, but just do that all around your eyes, inside your eyes and all around your face around your eyes. It is the same sort of effect, it is just pain”.
“Sometimes they have a long way to go from the carpark into the building, and by the time you get to the entrance you’re puffed or don’t want to get inside anymore.”
Case study: Tony Starkey
Hello, my name is Tony Starkey. I am aged 68 and have had less than 2% vision since I was 16 years old due to the eye disease glaucoma. I use a white cane as a mobility tool and a screen reader to communicate. Although there are still significant barriers for people in the blind and vision-impaired community, I believe access to premises has greatly improved since the 1970s.
I have previously worked as a factory process worker, a computer programmer in the banking industry, and in marketing and fundraising. For the past 22 years, I have provided advocacy and policy advice to government and the business sector. This includes participating in the development and review of standards related to accessibility for people with disabilities, such as the National Construction Code (NCC), Premises Standards, Transport Standards and Australian Standards.
People who are vision impaired need tactile and auditory information to help understand their surroundings. For example, tactile indicators on pram ramps allow me to identify a safe path of travel for road crossing. Without tactile indicators at bus stops, I have no idea if I am at a no parking zone or a bus stop. Independently accessing buildings can be frustrating without this kind of information. For example, when building numbers are not always displayed, or are not located in a consistent position. Or when there are accessible signs on toilet doors, but no information to say where the door is. While talking lifts are a great technical innovation, they require you to find a touch screen and then navigate to the allocated lift, sometimes with no tactile buttons available.
In my experience, consistent and logical wayfinding is the most important way to empower independent navigation for people who are blind or vision impaired. It is vital to enabling social participation and access to employment. At this point in time, there are limited mandatory wayfinding features in the NCC and Premises Standards. Some issues these standards need to address include the logical path of travel from building boundary to entrance, particularly when open space is a feature, and wayfinding solutions once inside a building, such as logical design for finding a building’s reception, lifts and directory. There also needs to be alignment between the Premises Standards, Transport Standards, and NCC, and use of universal design principles, with a focus on function.
Toilet and change room provisions
Stakeholders shared mixed experiences with accessible toilet facilities. Some reported that they had found plenty of accessible toilets in public buildings. Others said there are not enough accessible toilets and that they are often not big enough, particularly for different types of wheelchairs.
Toilet and change room provisions were raised as an issue in 27.5% of total submissions. Around 30% of submissions from the disability sector and governments discussed toilet and change room provisions.
The most common sub-themes raised were availability (18.3% of submissions) and accessibility (10.8% of submissions).
18.3% of submissions mentioned availability. They raised issues around lack of provisions and ratios.
10.8% of submissions mentioned accessibility. They raised issues around:
- fixtures and fittings
- change tables
4.4% of submissions mentioned 80 and 90th percentile wheelchair dimensions. The raised issues around small doorways and internal space.
3.6% of submissions mentioned doors. They raised issues around heavy doors.
Examples of issues
A number of stakeholders noted difficulties in accessing toilet facilities due to a lack of automatic doors. Opening a manual door can pose challenges for people with disability, particularly those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters. The Premises Standards do not specify that an automatic door is required for accessible toilet facilities.
Other issues with toilet facilities raised by stakeholders include:
- washing basins placed in corners, which are challenging to get to with mobility scooters
- toilet roll holders placed too low, making them difficult to reach
- the need for more than one grab rail
- being regularly used by people without disability, delaying access by people with disability who may have an urgent need
- the location of accessible toilets, which can be in distant parts of buildings.
Some industry stakeholders advised that information for the building industry about the inclusion of accessible toilet facilities is unclear and causes confusion. This is particularly true for adult accessible change facilities.
A point consistently raised in consultations was the lack of adult accessible change facilities, especially at transport hubs, shopping centres and other public buildings.
The inclusion of adult accessible change facilities in the Premises Standards was a significant outcome from the first review of the standards. From 30 September 2020, adult accessible change facilities must be provided in all new shopping centres, sports venues, museums, galleries, theatres and airports (as long as they are above a specified size). This will see more adult accessible change facilities available in future.
“There is not enough adult accessible change facility (AACF) in the local area; there is only one. Often we have to queue and wait in line.”
“Heavy doors and buttons in many disabled toilets are difficult to open for those who have disability. There needs to be good signage to distinguish between the ambulant toilet and disabled toilet.”
“Lack of AACF (including hoists) in shopping malls, theatres, libraries and other public buildings.”
In the second stage of consultation, many respondents raised issues with public buildings triggering their sensitivities to environmental factors such as:
- excess light
- chemicals released as building materials age and degrade.
Environmental sensitivities were raised in 35.5% of submissions. They were part of an active awareness campaign from people impacted by electromagnetic hypersensitivity every day. The number of submissions from the building industry and government on environmental sensitivities was very low.
Common sub-themes emerging as issues were electromagnetic hypersensitivity (22.7% of submissions) and cognitive disability (8% of submissions).
22.7% of submissions mentioned electromagnetic hypersensitivity. They raised issues around electromagnetic and microwave radiation.
8% of submissions mentioned cognitive disability. They raised issues around noise, flashing lights and patterns.
5.6% of submissions mentioned multiple chemical sensitivity. They raised issues around disinfectants.
Building design is unlikely to address many of the issues raised around environmental sensitivities theme. Some of these issues are related to products and interior fit-outs, which are not covered by the Premises Standards or National Construction Code.
Examples of issues
People with psychosocial disabilities or neuro-diverse disabilities such as trigeminal neuralgia may be affected by:
- reflective and patterned surfaces including floors and walls
- noise from poor acoustical treatment in the building.
People with multiple chemical sensitivity may have their health and wellbeing affected by:
- chemicals and cleaning products
- other allergens.
People with electromagnetic hypersensitivity may be affected by exposure to Wi-Fi enabled technologies such as mobile phones. This restricts their accessibility in buildings with these technologies.
Many suggestions to address electromagnetic hypersensitivity issues were not in the scope of the Premises Standards. Others lacked sufficient evidence to limit Wi-Fi technology, particularly when other people with disability use devices such as smartphones to assist them with their disability.
Other recommendations included providing safe zones or resting areas in large public buildings. These are quiet spaces with simple or no wall or flooring patterns, which can be used by people experiencing sensory overload or cognitive impairment. These spaces have been provided in some shopping centres in recent years.
“Places of public assembly should have quiet spaces available for people who experience sensory overload. Sports stadiums and some airports are beginning to install these features”
“Because there are many different types of information that you need to access if you’re going to move independently and safely around a building, the Premises Standards have to address each of those areas or categories of information.”
Many stakeholders raised issues indirectly linked to the Premises Standards or that fell outside the scope of the Premises Standards. These issues often reflected a desire for buildings that focus on people's accessibility needs across their whole journey.
Examples of issues
Many stakeholders asked that all new buildings be built with universal access in mind. Stakeholders said that universal design principles were referenced in the National Disability Strategy and international jurisdictions. They suggested that Australia incorporate these principles.
Several stakeholders noted that building types and scopes can be changed or revised. For example, a building’s use or zoning requirements can be altered. However, this change does not trigger any requirement to comply with the Premises Standards.
Some of the stakeholders addressed building types that fall outside the scope of the Premises Standards, such as domestic housing.
Stakeholders also highlighted single points of failure. These included:
- heavy doors in high-rise buildings
- single steps in buildings and shops
- raised door jams, which may prevent or limit access to the building.
“The NCC [National Construction Code] provides clarity regarding access to and within the common areas of Class 2 residential accommodation compared to the vagueness of Premises Standards.”
“Every person building or converting a building to a Class 1b rooming house has been required to meet AS1428.1, at significant additional cost, and for limited benefit.”
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2019, Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings 2018 ↵
- Bindi Maps is a mobile app that locates users precisely in indoor spaces. It employs a simple, natural-language audio system to describe where users are, what’s around them and the best way to get to their chosen destination. ↵