It is not our feet that move us along, it is our minds

Each of the Municipalities has slightly different interpretations of the National Building Regulations. There are sections of the “Facilities for Disabled Persons” which I have been wrestling with for years.

The Regulation goes thus:
Facilities for persons with disabilities shall be provided in any building except the following:

(a) Any building of which the whole of the ground storey comprises one or more occupancies classified in terms of regulation A20 as D4, H4, J1, J2, J3; (plant room, single dwelling, store room)

(b) Any building classified as H1 in terms of regulation A20 where such building has less than 25 bedrooms; (hotel)

(c) Any building classified as H3 in terms of regulation A20 and not pro vided with a lift; (2 or more dwellings on a single site: block of flats)

There is another exemption which is a complicated formula to allow exemption for small businesses on the ground floor.

I just want to examine this first part of the regulations. It implies that all categories should comply, except for the relatively minor categories which include a single house. I’m all in favour of this. At present this whole regulation is being reviewed and it is being amended in small ways. I have thoughts about item c but
I’ll leave those till later.

Offices are classified as G1, and factories, including mini-factories, are classified as D1, D2, D3 in terms of regulation A20. There is no mention in the regulation of this being an exempted category.

In the area where I live, and many other dormitory suburbs in this country, there are a rash of office parks which have sprung up. With the decentralization of cities and the increase of people wanting to work near home because high tech systems allow this, they appear to have become popular. These developments often are made from a rezoned area of a previously residential zone, in a buffer area. In order to appear to fit in with the residential nature of the area they are generally broken up into a series of identical double storey blocks, scattered prettily over the site, with a stream running down the centre, and indigenous landscaping, to pay homage to the eco side of the estate. In addition they’ll have ‘grass block’ floor to the external parking so that it will still appear (from the air) to be green, and avoid the ‘concrete jungle’ look. In addition they probably are pseudo Tuscan in style. This last is a personal nasty statement, but all the rest is serious.

None of these buildings have upper floor accessibility. Given the regulation quoted above, I think they should never have obtained approval from the Local Authority with only 50% accessibility. Is 50% reasonable? Quite often there is a slope of land which could have been used to make upper floors accessible, or perhaps an assortment of massing would have been more interesting. It is lazy architecture. At the time of submission for approval it was merely a drawing on a piece of paper, and should have been treated as such by the Local Authority, instead of looking straight away at unreasonable hardship’ which is the term used in the Employment Equity Act, for the Owner of the building.

It is conceded that sensory impaired people can access these buildings and the large range of people who are not wheelchair users; but vision impaired people, people with arthritis, recuperating people etc are also excluded from such environments. Trying to adapt buildings which are new (or old) is bound to be an expensive exercise, and this is not suggested here. The secret is to build accessibility in at the conceptual stage of a development, likely with no increase to costs. Grass blocks seemed a good idea at the time they were invented, but they are horrible to walk on even in takkies!

It angers me that this type of decentralized business, which is so suitable for persons with disabilities due to the removal of transport problems, becomes inaccessible due to poor planning. Despite being part of our legislation it is easier for local authorities to go with the flow, and developers to close their eyes to what they are doing.

As to the exemption relating to multiple housing (blocks of flats) with a lift, does it not seem then that ‘with a lift’ should be obliged to comply? Later in the regulation it allows that the bathrooms would not be required to comply; so all it’s asking for is that there should be no step at the front door and no tight turns from access ways. I would like especially for social housing agencies to keep this in mind.

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