Buildings for everyone!


A resource for designing more inclusive buildings is now available from the New Zealand government.

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In January the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) released a guidance document titled Buildings for everyone: Designing for access and usability.

This may not be particularly noteworthy to you. After all government documents are released all the time and end up white noise in the background of life. But this one is exciting and worth tuning into.

It was announced jointly by Minister for Disability Issues Carmel Sepuloni and Minister for Building and Construction Jenny Salesa. These two Ministers teaming up to introduce the document gives an indication of its importance in both sectors.

“Permanent or temporary disability affects one quarter of all New Zealanders, including seniors. Inaccessible buildings, transport and services exclude a large proportion of disabled people from employment, housing and a decent standard of living and quality of life. In this day and age that level of exclusion is unacceptable,” says Sepuloni.

Why do we need this when we already have a building code that address accessibility?

Buildings for Everyone focuses first on how people use the built environment, then offers pertinent accessibility and universal design considerations for achieving maximum accessibility. Building code compliance documents for accessibility provide prescribed access solutions and tend to focus on achieving minimum accessibility.

In New Zealand compliance documents for accessibility have largely remained static in the years since their debut. In the case of NZS4121:2001, which is the most comprehensive of the acceptable solutions for accessibility, eighteen years have passed since it was introduced. There have been zero amendments to the document in that time.

Conversely, international research around evidence based access design solutions has been ongoing, the use of assistive devices such as mobility scooters has increased (less that 50% of mobility assistive devices are able to turn in a 1500mm diameter circle, while a currently compliant accessible toilet provides even less space) and awareness around design supporting the needs of people living with conditions such as autism has increased.

Buildings for Everyone is a useful bit of kit to bridge the gap between our aging accessibility acceptable solutions and access solutions based on how people are actually using the built environments and what their needs really are. It helps designers, developers, contractors owners / occupiers, facility / building managers provide a built environment that works better for all of us.