scroll

Stairs Don’t Get a Free Pass

Back to Blog Articles
11 February 2021

Life as an access consultant has profoundly changed how I view and experience the built environment. As a common commuter through my city, I previously didn’t know why certain design choices were made, whether if they were compliant, or if they were a bad outcome.

Life as an access consultant has profoundly changed how I view and experience the built environment. As a common commuter through my city, I previously didn’t know why certain design choices were made, whether if they were compliant, or if they were a bad outcome. Now, everywhere I go I’m looking at the stairs, handrails, doors, ramps, or toilets, and I don’t shut off. I often call out issues in my head as I’m walking through that hotel lobby or train station. I also share all the issues with my partner and mention, “whoever signed that off has a lot to answer for.” It’s just part of who I am now.

Think of stairs and seating for lecture theatres, cinemas, and other entertainment venues. During a movie outing with my wife, I noticed that the stairs had no handrails on either side. “What about the AS1428.1 compliant finishes? Why aren’t there warning tactiles? How are they achieving 30% contrasting when it’s dark?”

I let it go and watched the movie, but it wasn’t long until I was on a job with a lecture theatre that had one set set of stairs and a handrail only on one side. The situation didn’t get any better, because a wheelchair user won’t be using the stairs, but what about the low strength or ambulant population that wants to sit with their friends? What do they do if they can’t find any seats available at the front of the lecture theatre?

I had to understand what was happening. It turns out that the Building Code of Australia (BCA) had this covered. In a broad comment it’s stated that stairs in these areas aren’t subject to full compliance of AS1428.1-2009. The client and certifier informed me it wasn’t a requirement and that they were happy to leave it at that.

As an advocate for accessibility nad inclusion, I wasn’t convinced. I’d recently watched David Leposky’s video audit of the Ryerson University, pointing out the myriad of issues for stairs like this. I explained DDA issues to the client and certifier, but to no success as they were still going to approve the stairs as they were. 

This needed a new angle, I figured that these stairs weren’t just for access to the seating in the lecture theatre, because they also provided access between levels. The top of the lecture theatre had exits that led to Level 2, while the base had exits to Level 1. This was how I could leverage higher requirements and a better solution for the lecture theatre stairs.

I shared this explanation with the certifier and they agreed that these stairs were now ‘communication stairs’ as well as stairs that provided access to seating. However, this was far from over as there was now a conflict of compliance versus functionality. The stairs couldn’t achieve handrails on both sides without blocking user access to seating, so we created a performance solution for this issue.

Interestingly enough, since then, this issue of entertainment stairs and communication stairs has come up more than ten times a year. This is a new angle for certifiers and project managers, which can be intimidating if you’re the person who’s pointing it out and creating more work. But I can guarantee that you’re doing an important service for people you’ll never meet.

Sometimes access consulting is like parenting, you won’t be thanked for all the hard work but it will be hugely satisfying knowing the lasting impact it can have.

Contact us

Have a
Question?

Please complete the email form and we will come back to you as soon as possible. Alternatively you can contact us directly using the contact details on the right

Our Offices

Sydney
Studio 6, Level 1
56 Bowman Street
Pyrmont NSW, 2009
(02) 9692 9322
Melbourne
Unit 304, 87 Gladstone St
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
(03) 9690 0102
Brisbane
99 Kingfisher Road
Victoria Point
Brisbane QLD, 4165
0476 299 321
Perth
24 Mumford Place
Balcatta, Perth, WA, 6021
0414 576 891
Wollongong
Unit 1, 27 Atchison Street
Wollongong, NSW, 2500
(02) 4226 2071