Disabled Australians are being neglected in a trio of major states after governments did not make minimum accessibility standards mandated for new homes, disability advocates say.

New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia state they will opt out of clauses in the upcoming revised National Construction Code (NCC) that would require new buildings to possess basic accessibility features like one step-free entrance, a toilet on the entry level, and reinforced walls in the bathroom.

These features and others, like a walk-in shower recess and wider door frames and corridors to accommodate ease of movement, were added to the NCC earlier in 2021 after promotion from advocates emphasizing problems disabled people have in discovering houses that adhere to essential needs.

The clauses call for all new houses adhere to “silver” level accessibility standards as defined by Liveable Housing Australia, which advocates state makes houses more liveable for people with and without disabilities.

The NCC establishes safety, accessibility and sustainability standards for structures in Australia, but each state and territory government can differ, override, delete or add to the code in its own laws.

The other states and territories surrounding Australia have agreed to implement these new rules as part of their building rules, but NSW, WA and SA have decided to opt out.

This is an issue for all people, not a disability issue, stated Serena Ovens, chief executive of the Physical Disability Council of NSW.

Parents with prams, the injured and senior citizens – more than 50% of the population will benefit from liveable design inclusion in new house builds.

​​A spokesperson for Kevin Anderson, the NSW minister for innovation and better regulation, stated the state government failed to support the inclusion of minimum accessibility standards in the NCC as the changes would negatively impact the housing affordability and the construction sector and will also come at an expense to the community.

The WA government has stated it will opt out, with a spokesperson for commerce minister Amber-Jade Sanderson informing Guardian Australia that this decision was owed to the substantial pressures withstood by the building sector due to labour and supply shortages and the impacts of Covid-19.

In SA, a choice to opt out of the code had been supervised by the former deputy premier, Vickie Chapman, who resigned as planning minister this week.

A spokesperson for SA minister Josh Teague, who retrieved the portfolio this week, stated: The previous Minister felt that while the provisions do supply some extra accessibility benefits, the Silver standard does not do enough in helping those who need accessible houses, and exerts an unjustified burden on the building industry to mandate them all future builds.

The Government is now boosting the implications these changes will exert on the South Australian building landscape, and how they could be applied in a meaningful manner.

Yet the added cost burden was already considered in drafting the NCC. When most state and territory building ministers agreed to include silver-level accessibility standards in the code in April, they acknowledged the conclusions of a regulatory impact assessment. This said these features would be more expensive, but a regulatory solution will result in substantial and longstanding benefit to Australians who require accessibility features.

Folks with disabilities should be able to choose their residence, said Ovens.

They see instances in which individuals have spent years moving from home to home without finding anything fitting their needs – where they can’t do tasks like bathe themselves because the bathrooms are inaccessible.

Ovens said the price to retrofit accessible features to a house is more costly than incorporating them at the beginning.

She stated that accessibility is an essential subject for individuals who rent, because they’ don’t exert control over the structure and can’t renovate it. And they are seeing individuals renting their entire lives, this owing to ever-increasing housing affordability issues.

Ovens said that the decision appeals to stereotypes regarding disabled people’s economic and social situations, and doesn’t take into account individuals transmitting through the community, such as when they work in or visit homes that are not their own residence, or when they move.

Ninety percent of members don’t qualify for social housing but they require housing fit for purpose, said Ovens.

All individuals with physical disability have had to get by in a house that is unsuitable, even possibly dangerous, for them to inhabit.

Alistair Webster from the Building Better Homes campaign stated the decision by state governments to decide against the accessibility elements of the NCC was “shameful” and summoned them to reverse their decision.

The inclusion of accessibility standards in the National Construction Code has the possibility to be transformational for millions of Australians, Webster stated.

This decision means individuals with disability, seniors and people recovering from injury and illness in those states will confront exclusion each day. Why should individuals in NSW, Western Australia and South Australia have fewer rights than people in other jurisdictions.

The Australian Building Codes Board has granted states and territory governments until 17 December to confirm whether they are opting out of this part of the code before it comes to fruition next year.


Source: theguardian.com

Image source: istockphoto.com