Technology 5: Building for people with disabilities

    Doors and Openings
    Access to Buildings and other Considerations
    Kerb Ramps
    Toilets, Bathrooms and Wet Areas


Over the years builders have not paid much attention to building for disabled persons unless they know before hand that it will be occupied by these persons. In many cases modifying or constructing buildings using ramps different sized fixtures can be a problem and also increases the cost of building the house. Although this is the case, many adjustments which may seem minor to the builders etc. can be easily done and greatly reduce the mobility problems which disabled people have. In this assignment, I will outline some adjustments that have to be considered when designing and building a house for the disabled.

Doors and Openings

The main problem with doorways in a house is that all of the frames and openings do not allow a person in a wheelchair access to all areas of a house. The main problem area is the Water Closet or Toilet. This is the room where most door frames are only 620mm wide. This width is simply not wide enough and would have to be changed to allow access into this room.

Another problem that occurs with doors is they do not allow wheelchair access if they are placed at the end of a corridor or passage. People in wheelchairs need room to manoeuvre their wheelchairs so that they can approach the opening front on. One way to alleviate this problem would be to increase the width of the opening or to position the opening further away from the end of the passage.

Heavy doors should be avoided as they are extremely hard to push for someone in a wheelchair. The maximum pressure that can be exerted to open a door is 36 N (newtons). If this is an entry door anything above 36N requires automatic opening door. AS 1428 requires that the doors shall be operable with one hand and that locks that require the simultaneous use of two hands should not be used. Also lever handles are recommended as they can provide a handle to pull back the door with.

Most doors should also have a metal or vinyl kick plates about 300mm deep covering the bottom of the door so that less damage will occur. Locks to doors should be horizontal sliding bolt type like the ones many public toilets have. Closers should be hydraulic when the pressure would otherwise exceed 36N for outer doors and 22N for internal doors.

Access to buildings and other considerations

Not all houses can be designed for disabilities as it depends on the disability the client may have. Different provisions have to be made for those on wheelchairs than those who are blind. Each disability must be designed for separately.

When designing buildings a concept of movement pathways should be used. This concept makes sure that from one given point in the building to another the access is not impeded by any barriers.

Designing for sight-impaired people differs from people in wheelchairs. Considerations have to be thought of like the usage of sounds to alert the person (like at light crossings) Textures fittings such as paving with indents so as to keep the person on the right track and raised numbers near lifts etc.

Access to the building should be well documented in the form of signs and the material leading up to the building should be firm, not loose gravel or something similar. This will allow wheelchairs access and will reduce the chances of people slipping. Where the distances to get to the building get to long, seating and some extra floor area for wheelchairs should be provided for rest.

Toilets and wet areas should be larger than normal with the perimeter having handrails around it so that the occupant can dismount the wheelchair. Also a non - slip floor in these rooms is a necessity as many accidents happen when a wheelchair slips from under the occupant and causes them to fall.

Fixtures in the building should allow the easiest use of the hands and arms to operate them. Firstly light switches should be much bigger and lower than ordinary height switches. The distance from internal corners should be at least 500mm. Taps should be the easiest type to operate which is the capstan or lever type. Ceramic knob types should be avoided as they can penalise people with poor grips. 

Kerb Ramps

Kerb ramps are one of the things that can make a world of difference for someone with a disability and especially a great help for those in a wheelchair. Ramps for kerbs should be designed with the minimum gradient available in a particular space. If the gradient of the ramp is to steep, it will cut off its usage to those who have to get themselves up the ramp in a wheelchair. A recommended gradient is 1:8 in the Australian Standards although gradients of up to 1:16 should be used for electric wheelchair users.

The maximum gradient that should ever be used is 1:6 for kerb ramps.

Besides the slope there are other factors to consider such as

 Þ Side Slope
 Þ Rounded edges
 Þ Surface of the ramp
 Þ Grates in relation to the ramp
Firstly side slopes are useful when a ramp adjoins a footpath. This feature keeps the flow of direction continue and makes it easier for wheelchairs to approach at more acute angles. In a ramp with a gradient of 1:8 the slopes tend to be of a 1:6 gradient.

The rounded edge on a ramp can either assist the wheelchair patron in getting up the ramp or make it difficult for them. A recommended size is 25mm high but many organisations believe than one of around 10 - 15mm would be more appropriate. Although the higher rounded edge has disadvantages it stops water from going on the kerb and enables the street to be cleaned much easier.

The surface of the ramp is just as important as its gradient. The material of the ramp which is almost always in -situ concrete should have a good grip in the hot and dry while maintaining the conditions in the wet. The main way to increase the grip on the concrete is to use a brushing effect on the concrete whilst it is still fresh. This brushing on the concreter will definitely give more grip than the usual trowelled finish.

A main problem in mounting kerbs is that if the road has a stormwater gully or stormwater grate in front or near the ramp, it makes it extremely difficult to mount. If this is so the drain/grate should either be moved upstream of the ramp to avoid excess water or the ramp should be positioned so this will be the case. Where a grate falls in front of the ramp it must be made sure that the grates openings are no more than 12mm gap in them and are running at 90o to the direction of travel.

When building ramps the following points should be avoided. Firstly avoid the use of a steep gradient when one of a gentler variety can be used. Secondly kerb ramps should not be placed near loose surfaces such as gravel or grass as the material will affect the traction of the ramp if it becomes lodged in it. Finally a ramp should be avoided where the is no ramp on the other side of the road or path.

Toilets, Bathrooms and Wet Areas

As many accidents which involve disabled people occur in the wet areas of a building special attention should be paid to these areas..

Firstly the doors should open outwards and they should be of a minimum of 800mm wide. Secondly toilets should be wall mounted to enable the user to get the wheelchair closer to the pedestal. Another important decision to be made in any wet areas is to have railing preferably stainless steel all around so as to enable the occupant to get around the particular room.

In baths the surface should be non slip and flat to try and decrease the chance of an accident when dismounting the wheelchair and getting into the bath or shower. Shower cubicles should have the dimensions of 1070mm depth ´ 915mm wide. Showers should also have a seat situated no more than 450mm off the ground with handrails of 30 to 40mm in diameter, 900mm above the finished floor level, plus a vertical rail spaning from 700mm to 1600mm above the finished floor level. Finally shower curtains are preferred against doors as they allow greater manoeuvrability and reduce the chance of the occupant getting stuck or injuring themselves.

When choosing the fixtures lever action devices are preferred to the screw type as they are easier to operate for people with slight and major arthritical problems. The water should come out of the one outlet with a single valve being used to distinguish the temperature and the flow rate.

Any accessory that is designed to be used must sustain a dead load of 113.5kg for 5 minutes before it can be allowed to be used. The following heights applies to the following items:-

 Toilet Paper holders:  600-800mm above plane of finished floor.

 Towel rail   1000mm above plane of finished floor.

 Warm air drier   1000mm above plane of finished floor.

 Soap dispenser  1000-1200mm                           

Mirrors should be from 0-400mm of the ground up to 1900mm. This will enable all sorts of people to use the mirror. A gap at the bottom is preferable as wheelchairs could damage the mirror. Secondly and Finally the flooring materials should be slip resistant and highly glazed and polished surfaces should be avoided.


Stairs are a major source of accidents in our community. They should be designed so that there is a going of 260-300mm and a preferred rise of 150-165mm. The landing of a stair should be 1200mm wide while the width of the step should be 900mm.

Winding stairs should be avoided as well as the spiral stairs as the different tread sizes can cause people to lose their fittings. When straight stairs are used landings are required for every 1500mm in height that the stairs go up. Where their are 2 rises the going of the two sections should be equal. The landings on dog-leg stairs should  be at least 2300mm wide to carry furniture etc. but the clear width on these must be 2200mm as the handrails will occupy at least 100mm.

If doors open directly on to the stairs some wired glass is required 1000mm from the floor to permit viewing by shorter people.

Handrails to stairs should 900mm and 750mm to accommodate for shorter people. Handrails should span the whole way up the stair and when they finish should be either turned down into the wall horizontally or turned over so that injury is avoided. The distance between the wall and handrail should be at least 50mm and the diameter of the handrail should be between 38-50mm.

Surfaces of the stairs should have an abrasive surface that has an extremely good grip and is not or does not look slippery. Carpet should be avoided unless it is applied carefully and fixed securely.


The recommendations that have been made in this assignment could go a long way in helping disabled people acclimatise and occupy a house or building much more comfortably. The areas of Fixtures and fittings, Bathroom design and kerb ramps can help a disabled person go up and down levels in a building much easier. The items that are explained in this assignment are mostly simple to rectify and most of them would not cost too much to do. Hopefully if builders, architects and engineers design buildings with disabilities in mind it will make life much easier for disabled people.

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