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Common Accessibility
Issues and Misconceptions

Accessibility – also sometimes known as “Disabled Access” – is getting a higher emphasis in design and construction.


However, a lack of understanding for what is required for accessibility (or why they are required) often causes critical features to be implemented incorrectly – or even omitted entirely! At DDEG, we see this frequently: in enquires from clients, during design reviews, in the course of developing Performance Solutions. Between all the different pieces of legislation – the Disability Discrimination Act, the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards (the “Premises Standards”), Australian Standards (such as AS1428.1) – it’s understandable where the confusion can come from.

In this series of articles, we’ll be exploring through some of the common accessibility issues and misconceptions we observe:

  • The Slip-Up: The issues and why they happen;

  • The Specification: What is actually required (and what piece of legislation specifies them); and

  • The Significance: Why they’re important



1 - Handrail Extensions 

2 - Clear Width on Stairs (Between Handrails)

3 - Accessible vs. Ambulant Toilets

4 - Door Clearances

Handrail Extensions


Written by Yik-Xiang Hue, Access Consultant (Published 22/11/2018)


Most of us take so much notice of the handrails that run up and down stairways (or even ramps) but pay no attention to what happens to them at the start or at the end.


1 - The Slip-Up

Most of the time, the handrails don’t continue much past the final riser, merely curling down to terminate.


Figure 1 - Non-Compliant Handrails - Terminations, but no Extensions


In other cases, the handrails just end – spanning between the top and bottom risers, but no further.


Figure 2 - Non-Compliant Handrails - No Terminations or Extensions


A common reason for the non-provision of these handrail extensions is that the stair has not been set back sufficiently from a path of perpendicular travel, such as a corridor (which is a non-compliance in itself – AS1428.1, Clause 11.1(a)); The proper provision of the handrails may cause them to protrude into cross-traffic (and thus be a risk for anyone travelling on an intersecting perpendicular path).

2 - The Specification

BCA Clause D3.3(a)(ii) stipulates that, in a building required to be accessible, every stairway (excluding fire-isolated stairways) must comply with Clause 11 of AS1428.1 (Standards Australia, 2010).

For the bottom of the stairs, Clause 11.2(d) of AS1428.1 requires that a handrail continues at least one tread depth parallel to the line of nosings plus an additional (minimum) 300mm horizontally from the last riser.


For the top of the stairs, Clause 11.2(e) of AS1428.1 requires that a handrail continue horizontally 300mm horizontally past the top riser.


Figure 3 - A model of a compliant stairway handrail


Clause 12(g) also stipulates that the handrails terminate by turning through 180 degrees, turning down to the ground, or returning to the end post or wall face (if next to a wall). These options are illustrated in Figure 26(C) and (D) of AS1428.1, which can be seen below:


Figure 4 - Figure 26(C) and (D) of AS1428.1, illustrating handrail terminations (Standards Australia, 2010)

3 - The Significance

While the length of handrail over the steps provides support while ascending and descending the stair, extensions serve a very different purpose.


Handrail extensions provide a physical indicator to an individual with a visual impairment, using the rail for guidance, that the stair is coming to an end. As their hand feels the change in angle, they are able to change their gait as they reach level ground.


Without this indicator, an individual relying on the handrail for guidance may not know the stair was ending - without a change in gait, the individual may stumble, trip or fall, causing injury. 

The handrail terminations (i.e. in the form of 180° turns, or turn-downs to the ground) also serve to “blunt” the end of the handrail: a suddenly-protruding handrail may catch on clothing, or “impale” someone, potentially causing injury.

4 - The Save

It should be noted that an Access Performance Solution is possible for this non-compliance. If you require this non-compliance to be addressed via a Performance Solution, please contact us.

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Clear Width on Stairs (between Handrails)

Written by Yik-Xiang Hue, Access Consultant (Published 17/12/2018)


As Disability Access Consultants this is a very common item we come to address: either because we identify this during the design review phase, or it’s picked up during an onsite inspection. This can prove to be a very difficult non-compliance to rectify, as it can potentially prove extremely costly to modify, in terms of both monetary impact as well as impinging on the design envelope around it, once the stair is constructed.


Figure 1 - These stairs seem wide enough, right.....?

1 - The Slip-Up

Like most paths of travel, a clear width of 1000mm must be provided to stairs.


Figure 2 - Non-compliant stairs with insufficient width between handrails

However, on a stair, the clear width must be between the handrails – and often insufficient space has been allocated, or a 1000mm clear width has only been accounted from wall to wall (so, after the handrails are installed, less than 1000mm remains between the handrails).

2 - The Specification

DTS Clause D3.3(a)(ii) with the BCA and Premises Standards stipulates that a stairway (with the exception of a fire-isolated stairway) must comply with Clause 11 of AS 1428.1 2009 (Standards Australia, 2010). Figure 26(A) in Clause 11, as shown below, illustrates the requirement for a minimum of 1000mm between handrails.


Figure 3 - Figure 26(A) from AS 1428.1(Standards Australia, 2010), illustration of the minimum required clear width between stair handrails.


3 - The Significance

While the reason for the minimum required clear width is not explicitly stated, it can be inferred that 1000mm clear width is to both maintain consistency with exit provisions under the BCA and to provide sufficient space for passing traffic should two individuals encounter each other while ascending and descending the stair at the same time.


Figure 4 - This is wide enough – a stair with compliant clear width between handrails

The issue can be seen when two individuals (who may or may not have a disability), travelling in opposite directions, wish to use the stair at the same time. If the stair does not have sufficient clear width, then one of those individuals would be required to stop and return the way they came, creating an inequitable (and, potentially, unsafe) situation.

4 - The Save

It should be noted that an Access Performance Solution is possible for this non-compliance. If you require this non-compliance to be addressed via a Performance Solution, please contact us, our friendly staff will be glad to help.


It should also be noted that a reduction of clear width between handrails is very likely to also pose an egress non-compliance from a Fire Safety perspective.  If you require this non-compliance to be addressed via a Fire Safety Performance Solution, please get in contact with us as we can arrange for our affiliated firm – Dobbs Doherty Fire Safety Engineers – to address this non-compliance from an egress perspective.


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Accessible vs. Ambulant

Written by Yik-Xiang Hue, Access Consultant (Published 01/03/2019)


“Disabled Toilet”, “Unisex Disabled Toilet”, “DDA Toilet”: these are terms we see in plenty of architectural drawings. The correct term is the Accessible Toilet – or, in its proper, full form – the Unisex Accessible Sanitary Facility.


Figure 1 - An Accessible Toilet

As with much of Accessibility concepts and terminology, focus on the need and requirement for Accessible Toilets has increased, but there is still a lot of confusion about the additional provision of Ambulant Toilets.


Figure 2 - The outside (left) and inside (right) of an ambulant toilet, alongside regular toilet stalls

For the purposes of this article, our comparable Accessible Sanitary Facility will comprise a toilet only (rather than also having a shower within).  


1.1 - The Slip-Up

Where do we start:

  • Only providing an accessible toilet – with no ambulant toilets;

  • Only providing ambulant toilets – with no accessible toilets;

  • Not providing accessible toilets near to banks of male and female toilets;

  • Designating ambulant toilets as unisex.


And those are just a small selection of the issues that can arise in the confusion between accessible and ambulant toilets!


1.2 - The Specification

Without delving into the nitty-gritty of the required specifications, we’ll look at the overall differences between the two:

1.2.1 Accessible Sanitary Facility

Accessible sanitary facilities are individual compartments provided near regular banks of toilets. Each compartment is a self-contained sanitary facility to address the hygiene needs of the occupant without them having to leave it: a single WC pan, situated in one corner with grabrails next to it and the wall behind it, basin to wash up in. Some of the predominant features of the compartment include the large open space of the compartment, and a door with a minimum clear width that would allow the passage of a wheelchair. Further specifics can be obtained from AS1428.1 – 2009.

Table F2.4 (a) in the BCA notes where accessible sanitary facilities are required (and where they are to be located); in most cases, this is wherever banks of standard toilets are provided.

1.2.2 Ambulant Sanitary Compartment

Ambulant toilets, or sanitary compartments, are required to be provided within the banks of male and female toilets in addition to the regular stalls/compartments. While they seem like standard stalls with extra additions and modifications, they do have some specific requirements, including (but not limited to):

  • Grabrails installed on both sides of the compartment;

  • Doors with minimum clear width and provided with accessible latch and lock;

  • Circulation space in front of the pan (that also excludes the door swing).

Due to certain wording in the BCA (Clause F2.3 (a)), the common interpretation is that, for compliance, ambulant sanitary compartments can only be provided as gendered, and thus within the banks of male and female toilets; unisex ambulant sanitary compartments are technically non-compliant and will need to be addressed by an access consultant through a Performance Solution.


1.3 - The Significance

The most important item to understand about Accessible and Ambulant Sanitary Facilities is the different types of individuals that each space to intended to facilitate.

1.3.1 Accessible Sanitary Facility

Accessible toilets have sufficient circulation space inside to allow an individual using a mobility chair to enter, reorient – to close the door, manoeuvre to enable the individual’s chosen transfer method to and from the pan, and then use the basin – and then exit. The configuration of grabrails is also to leave one side of the pan clear to allow for side transfers from the wheelchair.


Additionally, the circulation also provides sufficient space for a carer to accompany the individual with accessibility requirements into the toilet; this is an additional reason that accessible toilets are required to be unisex – as the carer may not be the same gender as the individual.

1.3.2 Ambulant Sanitary Compartment

Ambulant toilets are intended for, unsurprisingly, individuals with an ambulant disability: such as individuals with multiple sclerosis, or individuals who have limitations on full-mobility due to a temporary injury (such a leg strain). These individuals may be able to move around on their own power and accord, but may utilise a mobility-aid smaller than a wheelchair – such as crutches, or a walking frame.

The circulation space in front of the pan allows the individual using the toilet space enough to manoeuvre with their mobility aid within the compartment. The handrails on each side of the compartment allow the individual to grab both handrails for bilateral support when sitting, using and rising from the pan.


1.3.3 Accessible = Better?


A common misconception is that the accessible sanitary facility is larger, and so therefore is “better” – this line of logic often arises when an ambulant toilet has not been provided, and it’s hoped that the provision of an accessible toilet would address all access situations without having to provide further measures.


However, their intent and purpose are very different – hence their difference in design (Refer to the Figures below). An individual who uses a wheelchair would not have the required door clear width to enter an ambulant compartment (nor would an accompanying carer have the space to enter with them with the available circulation space within). Likewise, while an individual with an ambulant disability would certainly be able to enter an accessible toilet, the lack of rails on both sides would prevent the individual from being able to support themselves bilaterally.


Figure 3 - Floor Plans of an Accessible Toilet (Left) & Ambulant Toilet (Right)


1.4 - The Save

It should be noted that the DTS specifications for the provision and location requirements for accessible and ambulant toilets don’t always take into account the design and intended use of a building – in certain cases, variations to the DTS provisions could be addressed via Access Performance Solution.


For advice about possible Access Performance Solutions for your project, please contact us and our friendly staff will be glad to assist.

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Door Clearances

Written by Yik-Xiang Hue, Access Consultant (Published 08/05/2019)


Figure 1 - Innocent Enough…

A door.

Surely, it can’t get any simpler than this right?

But, suddenly, you’ve been advised that there’s a problem with that “simple” door: A column next to the door is encroaching into the latch-side clearance. Or a corridor, running perpendicular to the door, is required to be 1450mm wide.


“1450mm?” You might ask, “Isn’t only 1000mm required for egress purposes?”


And you’d be absolutely correct: 1000mm is the minimum clear width required for egress down a corridor. In this case, you’ve satisfied Fire Safety requirements – but have you considered Accessibility requirements?  


1.1 - The Slip-Up

The catch-all issue tends to revolve around the non-provision of a clear space in front of the door – Circulation Space. This can arise from various situations, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Items encroaching too close to the Latch of Hinge-side of a door (such as a cabinet, or even a perpendicular wall);

  • A corridor, travelling perpendicularly to the door, is deemed to be “too narrow” (despite, for instance, being the requisite 1000mm for egress purposes); or

  • A ramp terminating directly at the door threshold, with no landing before the door.


1.2 - The Specification

The specifications for the clearances that make up circulation spaces of doors can be found in AS 1428.1, Clause 13.3. The dimensions of the circulation space are dependent on:

  • The size of the door (i.e. the door clear width);

  • How an individual can approach the door;

  • The kind of door (swing vs. sliding); and, if swing

  • If the door swings towards, or away, from the individual.

The requirements for door clearances are summarized visually in Figure 31 and Figure 32 of AS 1428.1 for swinging doors and sliding doors, respectively, showing the dimensions of the circulation space, which is comprised of:

  • Latch-side Clearance (WL);

  • Hinge-side Clearance (WH);

  • Clearance that extends out from the door (L);


Figure 2 - An extract of Figure 31(h) (Standards Australia, 2010) showing the door clearances required for a swinging door (that opens towards the user) with a front approach.


A few things should be also noted:

  • Circulation spaces are required to have a gradient and crossfall not steeper than 1 in 40;

  • Landings of step ramps, required at the top and bottom, take on the dimensional requirement of the door circulation space where the step ramp leads to a door (AS 1428.1, Clause 10.8.2);

  • The smallest door clear width, D, that’s mentioned is 850mm – this is because 850mm is the minimum door clear width required by AS 1428.1, Clause 13.2, in order to accommodate wheelchair passage;

  • Door clear widths are given between 850mm and 1000mm in increments of 50mm – for doors of intermediate sizes (i.e. A door of clear width of 875mm), required circulation sizes can be interpolated (Clause 3.3.2);

  • As door clearances are dependant not only on the door size and type, but also by the kinds of approach possible to the door, the clearances requirements can differ on either side of the same door. This is illustrated below:


Figure 3 - Example of differing door clearance requirements on either side of a door


1.3 - The Significance

The intent of door clearances serves various purposes but is predominately aimed at ensuring individuals who operate a mobility chair such as a wheelchair have sufficient space to negotiate, operate and move through doorways.


Latch-side clearances are intended to provide space adjacent the door to position a mobility chair and enable the user to reach door hardware without exertion. The hinge side clearance is typically to accommodate protruding door hardware to ensure that, when the door is in the fully open position, the door hardware and any adjacent wall/surface do not impact, restricting the overall door clear width.


Door clearances also serve to provide circulation spaces at doorways. Clause 13.3.1 of AS1428.1 (Standards Australia, 2010) stipulate that such circulation spaces at doorways shall have a gradient and crossfall not steeper than 1 in 40. This provides an individual operating a mobility chair a stable, level surface on which to stay stationary while negotiating door hardware, safely reposition their chair to move around the doorway, and then move through the doorway itself.

1.4 - The Save

It should be noted that the DTS specifications for the provision of door clearances don’t always take into account the intended use of a building, whom would be present and using said doors, or any other aspects of the design. In these cases, variations to the DTS provisions could be addressed via Access Performance Solution.


For advice about possible Access Performance Solutions for your project, please contact us and our friendly staff will be glad to assist.

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Hand Rail Extensions
Clear Width on Stairs
Accessible vs. Ambulant
Door Clearances
Accessible Ramp
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