DPA member Paula Booth from Wellington says, “I use a chair to get around after an accident several years ago so the physical accessibility of buildings and the built environment is something I have experienced and thought about.
The stated objective of the Building Code as it stands is to “ensure that people with disabilities are able to enter and carry out normal activities and functions within (public) buildings”
But what is normal activity and function? Sure going to the bathroom is a normal activity so accessible bathrooms are reasonably common. But what if I want to make a hot drink? Or make a sandwich? Is that a normal activity and function?
Normal activity and function should mean full participation for everybody
If I was to work in the building, you would imagine I would need to be able to use all building facilities, but because it’s not often you see an accessible kitchen in a building I am left assuming that these activities are not considered normal. Or isn’t someone in a chair expected to be among those who regularly inhabit a public building? And if we do, are hot drinks and sandwiches off the menu for us, or are we expected to have an attendant to make these for us?
I think this concept of “normal activity and function” brings the entire building code into disrepute. It really does start to make you question what is normal and what isn’t, and who gets to decide.
Code at present has other vague wording
“Normal activity and function” isn’t the only vague aspect of the building code. Other words that are used throughout the code are “adequate” and “reasonable” – what do these words mean? The code provides no definition so again I assume it is up to your own interpretation. And that would depend on who you are and what your needs are . Do you see a ramp as reasonable? How about a lift rather than stairs? Is an accessible bathroom and kitchen required? Chair users like myself say all of the above are needed for us to participate fully in the life within a building, but a building owner may disagree.
The Building Code is our legislation around how public buildings should be built. It must change because at the moment having such malleable concepts is absurd because they are affecting the ability of disabled people to work and participate in ordinary life.
It is time that the standards change to make it compulsory to put in meaningful access to public buildings for all New Zealanders."
The Ministry for Disability issues website has more information about the built environment for disabled people as well as links to other organisations involved in the field and the legislation.