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Issue 2.

1 April 2005 Built Environment Accessibility

Disability Agenda
National Disability Authority
Built Environment Accessibility:
The Irish Experience
Accessibility of the built environment is a key factor in people with disabilities
achieving greater independence, participation and social inclusion. An inaccessible
built environment affects all members of society. However, for people with disabilities,
the barriers to equal participation in society due to an inaccessible environment are
much greater.

This edition of the NDA Research Agenda series is concerned with examining the extent
and nature of how the issue of accessibility of the built environment has been addressed
in the Irish context. It sets out some of the recent attempts to facilitate greater inclusion
through improved accessibility of the built environment in Ireland and shows how,
following the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, the
acceptance of a rights-based approach to disability has made a positive impact on the
broad area of access to the built environment. The review concludes with observations on
how these initiatives have impacted on built environment accessibility in Ireland.

Built Environment and Social Inclusion

An accessible built environment can facilitate greater inclusion and participation and is
recognised as a core element for the realisation of a society based on equal rights.
An accessible built environment provides people with independence and the means to
pursue an active social and economic life (EC Expert Group on Accessibility, 2003).

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

However, the right to participate in society is not enjoyed by all. On a daily basis, people
with disabilities are faced with barriers, which effectively exclude them from participating as
equal citizens. Many of these barriers relate to the accessibility of their built environment.

A recent survey on the social participation of people with disabilities, commissioned by the
National Disability Authority, highlights the issue of accessibility as a significant factor in
restricting social participation of disabled people. The survey confirmed that people with
disabilities are significantly more restricted in accessing their built environment, and thus
participating in social and cultural activities, than non-disabled people. The survey found
that over 30% of homes in Ireland are not accessible to people without going up or down
steps. This can make it difficult for some people with disabilities to visit friends or family
(NDA, 2004).

The difficulties experienced by people with disabilities, particularly older people, in visiting
their family and friends, could also be a factor in them feeling isolated and socially
excluded. Like older people, children also require that the built environment is accessible.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that every child has the right to
participation in family, cultural and social life. Ireland ratified the convention in 1992.
However, many of the children in Ireland remain excluded from participating in family,
cultural and social life, due to an inaccessible built environment. For example, every child
has the right to play. In Ireland, the National Play Policy recognises this right as a key
element of social inclusion. However, the policy also acknowledges that public
playgrounds are generally not designed with the needs of these children with disabilities in
mind (2004: 31). The findings of a recent study, funded by the NDA, suggest that the
general level of accessibility to public play facilities in Ireland is less than adequate
(Sugradh, 2003).

In some cases, an inaccessible built environment can also be a factor in denying a child the
right to go to school. Recent research undertaken by the Association for Higher Education,
Access and Disability (AHEAD), estimates that 80% of second-level schools are inaccessible
to children with physical disabilities (AHEAD, 2003).

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

The issue of built environment accessibility clearly impacts on the lives of people with
disabilities, young and old alike, and on their level of social participation. Legislation and
regulations play a vital role in introducing measures to improve built environment accessibility
and thus imrpove the independence of people with disabilities. In Ireland, over the past ten
years, a great deal has been achieved in putting the approporiate legilsative and regulatory
fraemeworks in place. However, before we examine these inititaives it is work looking at the
processes which have influneced these changes.

Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities

The work of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities marked a watershed
in how issues affecting people with disabilities in Ireland are considered. The Commission
was established in 1993 to advise the Government on practical measures necessary to
ensure that people with a disability could exercise their rights to participate in economic,
social and cultural life. Following extensive consultation with disabled people the
Commission published its findings in 1996. The subsequent acceptance by Government
and policy makers of the Commissions report, gave official recognition to a rights-based
approach to disability.

The Commission identified access as the gateway to full participation in society for people
with disabilities. An entire section of the Commissions report focused on this area. The
report made 18 key recommendations specifically concerning access, while a number of
other recommendations had accessibility dimensions including housing and

In 1999, the Government published Towards Equal Citizenship, a progress report on the
implementation of the recommendations of the Commission. Although the report found
that a number of the Commissions recommendations concerning access had been
implemented, the majority had been either rejected by the relevant Government
department or had yet to be implemented at that point in time. For example, the
Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government rejected the Commissions
recommendation for mandatory inspections for compliance with building regulations. The
recommendation that a national committee be established to develop policy and practice

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

and to monitor progress in relation to built environment access was also rejected. Neither
the Commissions recommendation that all legislation and guidelines which refer to any
aspect of the built/external environments be reviewed, nor the recommendation that a
policy of Lifetime Adaptable Housing be adopted as the norm, had been introduced at
that time. They have still not been adopted. Overall, Towards Equal Citizenship identified
only limited progress in implementing the key recommendations around access.
Despite the limited success in implementing the Commissions main access
recommendations, a significant amount of progress has been made in other areas, which
has produced a positive outcome in the area of built environment accessibility. These will
now be discussed.

Legislative and Regulatory Framework

As mentioned previously, an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework is vital if the
issue of built environment accessibility is to be adequately addressed. In Ireland, there
have been significant developments in these areas since the 1990s. The starting point of
this discussion is the Building Control Act (1990), which provides the framework for the
modern Irish building control system. This legislation was a significant development in
relation to built environment accessibility in that it regulated standards in building
construction and design through the introduction of building regulations. The principal
aim of building regulations is to provide for the health, safety and welfare of people in and
around buildings. The current Building Regulations comprise of thirteen parts (Parts A to
M). The regulations establish broad principles and general performance criteria.

Part M of the Building Regulations requires that all buildings be constructed to minimum
standards to facilitate access for people with disabilities. Technical guidance on how to
comply with the regulation is issued with Part M. Part M also requires that all dwellings
should be visitable by people with disabilities, and that access to new non-residential
buildings by people with disabilities should be adequately provided. The main
requirements of Part M are outlined below.

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Table 1: The requirements of Part M of the Building Regulations


Access and Use

Adequate provision shall be made to enable people with

disabilities to safely and independently access and use a



If sanitary conveniences are provided in a building,


adequate provision shall provision shall be made for

people with disabilities


Audience or

If a building contains fixed seating for audience or


spectators facilities adequate provision shall be made

for people with disabilities



In this Part, "people with disabilities" means people who

for this Part

have an impairment of hearing or sight or an impairment

which limits their ability to walk or which restricts them to
using a wheelchair.



Part M does not apply to works in connection with

of this Part

extensions to and the material alterations of existing

dwellings, provided that such works do not create a new

Source: Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government

Responsibility for ensuring compliance with Part M rests with the owners, designers, and
developers of buildings. Architects and designers may issue what are called opinions on
compliance when they are satisfied a building meets the requirements of the building
regulation (including Part M). However, the practice of issuing opinions on compliance is
not part of the statutory building control system and they are issued on a voluntary basis
to meet conveyancing requirements.

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

Building control authorities, which are located in each local authority, have statutory
powers to inspect design documents and buildings, and have powers of enforcement and
prosecution where breaches of the regulations occur. A building control authority may
inspect buildings for compliance with the building regulations in a number of ways. An
inspection may involve a site visit or an inspection of design plans or documents. The
precise nature of the inspection is determined by the nature of the enquiry. Although,
there is an inspection target of 12-15% of all developments, which is currently set by the
DEHLG, there is no statutory responsibility on the part of a building control authority to
monitor for compliance with building regulations. The inspection rate across building
control authorities varies widely.

The National Disability Authority (NDA) has recently commissioned independent research
to examine the effectiveness of Part M at making buildings accessible to people with
disabilities. The research will provide a technical analysis of Part M against relevant
standards in other countries and provide a critical review of the monitoring and
enforcement of Part M. The research also involves obtaining the views and opinions of
those as they relate to Part M. The views and experiences of people with disabilities and
disability organisations and those involved in the planning, design, and construction of
buildings are included in the research. The findings are due to be published in the
Summer of 2005. Preliminary findings from the research suggest that the monitoring for
compliance with Part M is poorly co-ordinated, haphazard and piecemeal. The findings
also suggest that Part M has not improved access to the built environment for many
people with disabilities.

The Government has plans to introduce a Building Control Bill in the near future. If
introduced, this legislation would have a significant impact on the issue of built
environment accessibility. Some of the measures proposed in the draft legislation would
strengthen the enforcement of the building regulations, including Part M, and simplify the
process of seeking legal redress where breaches of the building regulations are found. The
proposed legislation may also introduce a system of registration for architects. It is
planned to introduce the legislation in 2006. There is also a proposal in the National
Disability Strategy to undertake a review and update Part M of the Building Regulations.

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

Although building regulations play an important role in improving built environment

accessibility, there are other mechanisms which can improve the situation. For example,
equality legislation is a key component of an inclusive and equal society. In Ireland, much
work has been done to put equality in a legislative framework with the introduction of the
Employment Equality Act (1998) and the Equal Status Act (2000). Both of these Acts
prohibit discrimination and victimisation in the areas employment, vocational training,
advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other
opportunities to which the public generally have access. They do so under nine grounds,
one of which is disability. In respect of built environment accessibility, the equality
legislation provides a person with a disability a system of redress if he or she has been
discriminated against.

National Disability Strategy

The Government publication of the National Disability Strategy (NDS) is another recent
development, which has a significant focus on the area of built environment accessibility.
The NDS was launched in September 2004 and proposes a number of measures that will
have significant impact on built environment accessibility. The NDS comprises legislative
proposals, including a Disability Bill, a commitment to multi-annual resources for
disability services, and six Outline Sectoral Plans which have been produced by individual
Government departments.

One of the most significant proposals in the NDS is the plan to establish a Centre for
Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD). This centre would ensure that universal design
plays a key role in standards development, education, training and professional
development. It is also proposed that centre will engage in practical and theoretical work
in respect of matters relating to universal design. Some of the other proposals contained
in the NDS include measures to further improve access to public buildings and heritage

The measures identified in the Outline Sectoral Plan published by the Department of the
Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG), if introduced, will also have an
impact on built environment accessibility. One of the key objectives of the DEHLG plan is

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

to promote universal access to public spaces, buildings and services owned and operated
by local authorities. The legislative components of the NDS are currently being debated in
the Oireachtas. There will be a consultation process on the Outline Sectoral Plans before
they are finalised.

Other key Initiatives

Barcelona Declaration Project
The Barcelona Declaration is the main outcome of a European Congress, which took place
in Barcelona in 1995. The declaration supports the right of disabled people to participate
as equal citizens. The Declaration also recognises the contribution people with disabilities
can make to the society and environment in which they live. In 2001, the Irish
Government established a process for the promotion, adoption and practical
implementation of the Barcelona Declaration among all local authorities. The National
Disability Authority was asked to facilitate this process.

The project was called the Barcelona Declaration Project. Its main objective was to assist
local authorities in creating a more inclusive society. The tangible outcomes of the Project
include the endorsement of the Barcelona Declaration by the majority of local authorities
in Ireland (the highest number of any EU country). By endorsing the declaration, local
authorities made a commitment to adopting measures towards the necessary adaptation
of urban spaces, buildings and services of all types, in order to allow full use by disabled
persons. Another outcome of the Project was the formulation of a disability-proofing
template, which provides local authorities with a framework for ensuring their policies,
plans, projects and actions are cognisant of the needs of people with disabilities.
Throughout Ireland, a number of local authorities have now introduced pilot projects to
implement various elements of the Barcelona Declaration. These measures have now
firmly placed the issues of built environment accessibility on the agenda of local
Government structures.

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

Public Service Accessibility Initiative (PSAI)

In the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness (PPF) the national social partnership
agreement reached in 2000, a commitment that every Government department and public
body would take reasonable steps to make its services accessible to the public was given
(Government of Ireland, 2000: 100). This commitment reiterates one of the key
recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities that all
public buildings and services should become accessible to all.

The Public Service Accessibility Initiative (PSAI) was established by the National
Disability Authority to implement the commitment to improve access to public services,
which was made in the PPF. The role of the PSAI is to develop guidelines in accordance
with international norms to facilitate effective action and acceptable standards and to
award a symbol of accessibility to compliant public services. Under the PSAI initiative,
public service providers who have taken sustainable and measurable steps to make their
services more accessible will be eligible to receive an award.

This award, the Excellence Through Accessibility Award, will recognise improvements in
the way in which public services are delivered. Built environment accessibility is one of
three key areas specifically addressed under the PSAI. The other two areas are Quality
Customer Services (QCS) and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). It is
planned to introduce the award in 2005.

The right to access the built environment is essential for the realisation of a society based
upon equal rights. However, inadequate or restricted access to the built environment
remains a significant barrier, which restricts the equal participation of people with
disabilities in Irish society.

The purpose of this overview has been to provide a summary of the recent Irish experience
of addressing the issue of built environment accessibility. The overview outlined how
various initiatives to promote built environment accessibility have coincided with the
emergence of a rights-based approach to disability in Ireland. This has, undoubtedly,

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity

contributed to the promotion of an accessible built environment among Government and

other policy makers.

Much positive change has taken place in Ireland over the past 15 years at both a national
and local level. This change has resulted in the removal of some of the barriers to access
the built environment and has promoted equality of opportunity. However, much work
remains. The National Disability Authority recognises that considerable barriers remain.
Removing these barriers, in collaboration with people with disabilities, will continue to be
a cornerstone of our work.

AHEAD (2003) Creating an Accessible Curriculum, Dublin: Education Press
Central Statistics Office (2003) Census 2002: Principal Socio Economic Results. Dublin,
Stationery Office
Disability Legislation Consultation Group (2003) Equal Citizens: Core Elements of
Disability Legislation, National Disability Authority: Dublin
EC Expert Group on Accessibility (2003) 2010: A Europe Accessible for All. European
Commission for Employment and Social Affairs, Brussels
Fahey, T. and Fitzgerald, J. (1997) Welfare Implications of Demographic Trends. Dublin:
Oak Tree Press
Government of Ireland (1996) Report of the Commission on the Status of People with
Disabilities: A Strategy for Equality. Dublin: Stationery Office
Government of Ireland (1998) Employment Equality Act, Dublin: Stationery Office
Government of Ireland (1999) Towards Equal Citizenship: Progress Report on the
Implementation of the Recommendations of the Commission on the Status of People
with Disabilities. Dublin: Stationery Office
Government of Ireland (2000) Equal Status Act, Dublin: Stationery Office


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Government of Ireland (2000) Part M of the Building Regulations (SI No. 179 of 2000),
Dublin: Stationery Office
Government of Ireland (2000) Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, Dublin:
Stationery Office
Government of Ireland (2004) Ready, Steady, Play: A National Play Policy, Dublin:
Stationary Office
Government of Ireland (2005) National Disability Strategy, Dublin: Stationery Office
National Disability Authority (2004) Survey on Social Participation and Disability, Dublin:
National Disability Authority
Sugradh (2003) Public Play Provision for Children with Disabilities, Sugradh
The Barcelona Declaration (1995) Adopted at the Euro-Mediterranean Conference - 2728/11/95

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Disability Agenda is a series of short reports produced by the National Disability Authority.
Previous editions cover:
1. Education
2. Pilot of the proposed National Disability Study
3. Personal Assistance Services
4. Further Education, Training and Employment
5. Legal Systems of Redress
6. Promoting Positive Attitudes to Mental Health
For further copies of this or any of the previous reports listed above please contact the

Disability Agenda
Issue 2.1 April 2005
Built Environment Accessiblity
Disability Agenda is also available on and in alternative formats on
request from the NDA


National Disability Authority

25 Clyde Road, Dublin 4
Tel: 01 608 0400
Fax: 01 660 9935

Disability Agenda Built Environment Accessiblity