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Translating high quality research specific to better design and building practice
Translating high quality research specific to better design and building practice

Legislation, Standards and Guidelines

This section of the website sets out the current planning framework, requirements and constraints (including recent reforms) under which home modification services are provided.

Building codes stipulate the minimum necessary standards to achieve health, safety, amenity and sustainability of the buildings. The Building Code of Australia (BCA) sets out the minimum requirements for health, amenity and safety based on 10 building classes.

What is The Building Code of Australia (BCA)?

The Building Code of Australia (BCA) is a uniform set of mandatory technical provisions for the design and construction of buildings throughout Australia. Each Home Modification and Maintenance Services (HMMS) in NSW completes all building works in accordance with the BCA.

The BCA is a performance-based code, and compliance with its performance requirements means that building solutions will meet either the:

A) ‘Deemed to satisfy’ provisions;


B) ‘Alternative Solutions’ (i.e. solutions based on individual cases and research evidence, not on standards).

The BCA, along with the Plumbing Code of Australia, comprise the National Construction Code (NCC). The NCC is available, free, from the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) website:

What is a Standard?

Standards are published documents setting out specifications and procedures designed to ensure products, services and systems are safe, reliable and consistently perform the way they were intended to. They establish a common language which defines quality and safety criteria. They cover everything from consumer products and services, construction, engineering, business, information technology, human services to energy and water utilities, the environment and much more.

What is a Guideline?

Guidelines are recommended practice that allows some discretion or leeway in interpretation, implementation or use. These documents are practical and don't set impossible goals. They are based on sound industrial, scientific and consumer experience and are constantly reviewed to ensure they keep pace with new technologies.

Accessibility Standards

The Accessibility Standards are technical documents that provide guidance on aspects of physical accessibility relevant to design outcomes. Standards are typically written by expert committees set up and supported by government. They are under continuous review, being updated regularly to take account of changing technology, industry practices, and community expectations. The Australian Standards comprise the major component of the ‘deemed to satisfy’ provisions with Vol 1 of the BCA, ‘Section 3 - Access & Egress’ and references 'AS1428 Design for Access & Mobility, Part 1'. However, this currently excludes class one & two (private domestic buildings), therefore AS 1428.1 and AS 1428.2 are used as a guide only, given they are not mandatory and in fact will fail to cover many individual users' needs in the home modification situation, whose wheelchair footprints and circulation requirements will exceed those within the dimensional minima set out within the access standards. The adaptable housing standard is currently being reviewed but was intended as a guideline for new homes for older people and people with disabilities.

In addition to laws and regulations governing construction, Australia has rights-based disability discrimination legislation that covers access to premises.

Building Access Requirements

The Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) is administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The objectives of the DDA are to eliminate, as far as possible, discrimination against persons on the grounds of disability in the areas of work, accommodation, education, access to premises, clubs and sport and the provision of goods, facilities, services and land, existing laws and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs to. The DDA aums to ensure, as far as practicable, that persons with disabilities have the same rights to equality before the law as the rest of the community; and to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the principle that persons with disabilities have the same fundamental rights as the rest of the community.

The definition of disability in the DDA is broad and includes physical, intellectual, psychiatric, sensory or neurological disability, learning disabilities, physical disfigurement and the presence in the body of disease-causing organisms. The DDA also protects relatives, friends, carers and co-workers of people with disabilities from discrimination, and protects people with disabilities if they are accompanied by an assistant, interpreter or reader, are accompanied by a trained animal, such as a guide or hearing dog, or use equipment or an aid.

The DDA prohibits discrimination in access to or use of premises open to the public or a section of the public (Section 23) and in the provision of goods, services and facilities (Section 24). The DDA also overrides other relevant acts such as the Australian Heritage Commission Act (AHCA). However, consistency with existing laws where feasible is encouraged. Consistency meaning, in this context, that any existing conservation plans shouldn’t be ignored, and that consideration should be given to ensuring that any alterations undertaken are visually compatible or ‘sympathetic’ and are relatively unobtrusive.

Technical Standards

Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), the Attorney-General may make Disability Standards to specify rights and responsibilities about equal access and opportunity for people with a disability, in more detail and with more certainty than the DDA itself provides. The Commission has a function of advising the Attorney on making such standards. Standards can be made in the areas of employment, education, public transport services, access to premises, accommodation and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs.

Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 - You can download standards and information from the Attorney-General's Department.

Technical Guidelines

The Commission may issue guidelines under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) to assist persons and organisations with responsibilities under the legislation to avoid discrimination and comply with their responsibilities. Unlike standards, these guidelines are not legally binding regulations. The Commission has issued guidelines in a number of areas under the title "Advisory Notes". For example;

What is the Australian Standard AS 1428 Suite of Standards?

The AS 1428 provides minimum design requirements for new building work, to enable access for people with disabilities e.g. access ways and circulation space for people in wheel chairs. It determines access and movement in public buildings. It may also be applied to provide access in existing buildings. The AS 1428 does not cover Class 1a or 1b buildings (private dwellings) and non-common areas in Class 2 buildings (e.g. block of units). However, it may be used as a legal reference.

How does AS 1428 apply to home modifications?

Standards in the access and mobility suite exist in the Access and Mobility Suite of Standards (AS 1428)

Part 1 - Parts of buildings covered by the BCA. This is designed to cover adults 18 to 60 years.

Part 2 - Parts of buildings not covered by the BCA (i.e. including furniture, fittings and equipment).

Part 3 - Design for children. This is designed to cover children 3 to 18 years, however it refers to some parts of AS1228.3.

Part 4 - Design for those with vision impairment (i.e. this is primarily concerned with Tactile Ground Indicators (TGIs)).

All the current access and mobility standards are primarily concerned with public buildings and so are typically not mandatory for design or modification to private homes (Building classes 1 and 2). Whilst the AS1428 Suite of Standards is not applicable in private dwellings, AS1428 part one in particular is typically used as a guide in the NSW HMMS industry for designing modifications to the home environment.

The use of access standards is helpful in guidance as to the features that need to be considered, as they set out the minimum dimensions for circulation spaces, ramps and provide dimensional minimum for the placement of structures, fittings and fixings. The underlying assumption being that attention to wheelchair footprints (i.e. the amount of vertical and horizontal space occupied by a standard wheelchair) and wheelchair frame flexibility will benefit all.

Nevertheless, public access standards, while useful for general guidance, cannot account for individual need, as they do not account for users' transfer preferences, and generally assume full upper-limb reach ranges. In addition, it is important to be aware when reading access standards, that design solutions are often the result of compromises resulting from requirement conflicts. A requirement conflict occurs when a standard solution for one type of disability impairment does not work for another type. For instance, elimination of kerbs and/or edges to improve wheelchair circulation may pose hazards for individuals with severe vision loss unless additional tactile or auditory orientation cues are provided. This is because while a kerb poses a barrier to wheeled mobility it provides a mobility cue for those with visual loss. Thus, the addition of tactile ground indicators in conjunction with a kerb ramp is the preferred public-access solution. Another well-known design conflict is between those with ambulatory disabilities and wheelchair users. Ambulatory users (i.e. those individuals who are able to walk) generally prefer more upper limb support, and too much unobstructed circulation space without rails may leave them more vulnerable to falls.

Access standards are continually reviewed and as part of this review process there is ongoing pressure to include a greater range of disability concerns and environmental settings.