Being able to easily access our homes and public buildings is something most of us take for granted. It’s easy to forget that there are many people for whom the three steps at the front of a house can be insurmountable.

The recently reported case of a young leukaemia sufferer using a wheelchair who was unable to enter his local Centrelink office for assessment due to lack of disabled access highlighted the serious problems faced by people with limited mobility even in our supposedly civilised society.

It can be a real shock to visitors to our city to find that train stations are not universally accessible. Those with prams, the elderly or wheelchair users may simply not be able to reach the platforms.

Major stations, such as Central, Sydenham and Burwood, have lifts but this is the exception rather than the rule. This is a stark contrast with cities like Melbourne and Adelaide where almost all stations have provisions for wheelchair users.

CityRail’s website states that they are committed to ensuring the accessibility of new stations and new trains, the progressive upgrade of existing facilities, services and information -¦ which accommodates as many of our customers as possible.

However, the NSW Ministry of Transport’s assessment in June 2006 states that only 28 percent of stations in the Sydney CityRail network have disabled access, meaning that rail travel is simply not an option for many disabled people.

The inadequacy of equitable access provisions extends to public paths which, in many areas, especially the inner city, are virtually unusable by those with limited mobility.

Even now, when local councils upgrade footpaths and gutters, they commonly fail to use the opportunity to relocate or create kerb crossings, which would greatly improve accessibility.

Why is it that Sydney is lagging behind in this area? It is, no doubt, partly due to the quantity and age of Sydney’s infrastructure which means that it is simply too expensive to provide extensive upgrades to these facilities.

The Building Code of Australia requires that all new public buildings be provided with equitable access to a building and the facilities and services provided in that building.

This means there must be a ramp or lift at each main entry point. Facilities must also be designed to provide adequate clearance for wheelchair and electric scooter users within all the areas of a building including WC facilities, corridors, telephones etc.

The actual clearances required are set out in Australian Standard AS1428 which also describes acceptable construction of handrails, ramps, kerb ramps etc.

The incorporation of disability access facilities into private homes is another category altogether. There are no current requirements for private homes to be accessible, except when they form part of a larger housing redevelopment when a certain percentage must comply with disability access requirements.

For further assistance with providing disabled access facilities, it makes sense to consult an expert familiar with current legislation who can also advise on design and construction requirements.

For more information about existing disabled access facilities around the city, refer to the City of Sydney’s website which has a series of maps and resources.

The Eatability website has a list of wheelchair-accessible restaurants in and around Sydney. CityRail’s website has a section on equitable access including lists of accessible stations.

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