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Does the Building Code effectively support those with Disabilities?

November 5, 2015

As we continue to develop access hardware for our client base, we spend a lot of time researching, perusing disability websites and forums, and speaking with individuals in regards to disability and accessibility.

Recently I read a short article on Disabled Persons Assembly NZ from one of their members, Paula Booth. Paula requires the use of a wheelchair and gave her opinion on the definitions within the Building Code. At worst, she believed the terminology and lack of formal definitions within the Code gave too much leniency around what ‘normal activity and function’ and words such as ‘reasonable’ and ‘adequate’ mean in a disabled context.

For the complete article, you can access The Building Code has a vague definition of “normal activity and function” that doesn’t work for disabled people

Reading Paula’s story, I found that she indeed had some extremely good arguments. What non-disabled individuals would deem ‘normal activity and function’ is completely different to what a disabled individual would expect as ‘normal activity and function’. Paula provides the following:

“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?”

When looking at this holistically, a building owner could potentially argue that they couldn’t commit investment to the entry and normal activity and function of every denominator of ‘disability’. And should they be expected to? There is potentially an unwritten rule here that a building owner will look to support the “average” ‘normal activity and function’ – that they cannot support the extremes of the continuum.

It’s an interesting conundrum, and one that will have much debate around it.


“Access is accepted as a human right and there is a commitment to a landscape where disabled people experience equal access, inclusion and participation.”[1] Though access in this context refers to wider access – to buildings, information, communication, transport, communities etc. Vestner has the prerequisite experience and knowledge in terms of physical accessibility in both commercial and residential buildings. We’d love to talk through your options if you’re a building owner or operator and wanting to meet the requirements of the building code (no matter how vague they are).

We have a variety of solutions and lifts that meet the requirements of the Building Code (both in terms of purpose and specifications), so give us a call to discuss your requirements and let the professionals guide you.


Image source:

Wheelchair at foot of stairs,



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Filed under Building codes and standards

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