New ‘Changing Places design specifications 2020’ released

Changing Places design specifications 2020 cover title

The new ‘Changing Places design specifications 2020’ have been released.

Changing Places design specifications 2020 cover imageDownload a copy here.

The specifications state:

Changing Places have come a long way since the first facility opened in Ringwood, Victoria in 2014. There are now over 130 Changing Places across six states: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. All accredited facilities are listed on the Changing Places Australia website. The National Public Toilet Map also lists many Changing Places facilities.

The Changing Places design specifications 2020 provide the technical design specifications and the estimated costs to build a Changing Places facility, with four design options. The design specifications also serve as an advocacy tool for organisations and individuals seeking to gain more information about Changing Places and for those seeking to campaign for more Changing Places to be constructed.

The refreshed Changing Places design specifications 2020 replace the Changing Places Information Guide and Technical Standard June 2017 and includes updated designs and new features, which are based on feedback from the facilities currently in operation.

A summary of the changes is listed below.

• A shelf has been added beside the toilet pan for personal products.
• Shower-type curtains shall not be used as a privacy screen.
• Privacy screen height shall be no less than 1400 mm in height and no less than 1750 mm
in length.
• The distance between the front of the pan and the privacy screen has been changed to 900 mm.
• Toilet-roll holders are now required to be provided on both drop-down grabrails.
• Flat elliptical grabrails can be used.
• Drop-down grabrails must remain locked in the upright position when raised.
• Mirror heights have been amended.
• The dimension of 675 mm between the tap location and sidewall has been included.
• Basin minimum shelf size of 300 x 400 mm has been added.
Change table
• Operable heights of minimum 400 – 900 mm have been included.
• Paper change table cover and dispenser have been deleted and replaced with a sanitising
wipes dispenser.
• A minimum change table length of 1800 mm has been included.
• A minimum circulation space of 1100 mm has been included in front of the change table.
• The shelf size to the change table has been nominated.
• The extent of lighting above the change table has been nominated.
• Performance details for change tables have been added.
• Shower seats to have front legs that extend to the floor.
• Shower curtains to be provided as two separate curtains with retractable or swing away curtain rods.

Ceiling hoist
• Clearance to ceiling hoist transverse rail has been added and minimum ceiling height has been deleted.
• Performance details for hoists have been added.
Circulation spaces
• Fixtures allowed to intrude into circulation spaces
have been defined.
• Dwell time of 9 seconds for doors to remain open has been included.
• Door controls for standalone Changing Places facilities shall be recessed into walls to prevent vandalism.
• Door control signage has been updated.
Clothes and sling hooks
• Dimensions of clothes and sling hooks sizes have been included.
• Exclusion zones for lighting over the change table have been identified.
• Requirements for operating instructions have been updated.
• A sign design has been prepared in accordance with NCC 2019 D3.6(g)(ii) that requires signage to be provided at accessible unisex sanitary facilities, other than one which incorporates an Accessible Adult Change Facility, to direct a person to the location of the nearest Accessible Adult Change Facility within that building.
• Typical change table operating instructions have been provided.
• Typical hoist operating instructions have been provided.
Explanatory notes
Notes have been provided as additional commentary to assist designers. Information within the notes is not mandatory.

Please contact our office for Changing Places assessments, by accredited, qualified and registered assessors with $20M public liability and $20M professional indemnity insurances.

Luminance Contrast Requirements for Doors

Brown door in dark wall

AS 1428.1 Clause 13.1 is often a topic of discussion by building certifiers, building surveyors, architects, designers and project managers.

Clause 13.1 outlines the luminance contrast requirements for doorways. Each doorway in an accessible part of a building must achieve compliance with AS 1428.1 Clause 13 (luminance contrast, door clear width, controls/door handles, and spatial/circulation spaces).

Luminance contrast of doors is required so people can easily identify a doorway, and a door doesn’t blend into the wall background, making it difficult to see.

There a range of options to achieve compliance. Each option is independent of the others and only one option is required to achieve compliance. These options are detailed in AS 1428.1 Clause 13.1.

Beach huts with colourful doors

Clause 13.1 says:

13.1 Luminance contrast
All doorways shall have a minimum luminance contrast of 30% provided between—
(a) door leaf and door jamb;
(b) door leaf and adjacent wall;
(c) architrave and wall;
(d) door leaf and architrave; or
(e) door jamb and adjacent wall.
The minimum width of the area of luminance contrast shall be 50 mm.

The wording of this Clause could be a lot clearer to indicated that each option is an “OR”. There is not an invisible “and” after each option.

If you comply with one of these options listed above, the doorway will comply. This can be achieved using a 50mm band (minimum) in a painted colour, a timber or metal finish, using a powder-coated steel plate, by painting the door or many more finishing options.

What AS 1428.1 Clause 13.1 should say to remove any confusion or misinterpretation is the following:

13.1 Luminance contrast
All doorways shall have a minimum luminance contrast of 30% provided between—
(a) door leaf and door jamb; or
(b) door leaf and adjacent wall; or 
(c) architrave and wall; or 
(d) door leaf and architrave; or 
(e) door jamb and adjacent wall.
The minimum width of the area of luminance contrast shall be 50 mm.

If you have any questions about luminance contrast please contact our office.

Alternatively, please visit to read more about the area and to register for our free Luminance Contrast Assessment Tool (LCAT).

We’re also offering training for a limited number of people on 4th April 2019 in our offices. See the Eventbrite listing for more information.

Lastly, for those observant readers, you’ll see a step in the doorway used in the feature image. We can also help design a compliant step ramp to provide an accessible doorway for everyone.


On the Menu: Burgers, Fries, Shakes and Universal Design

The entrance to a small fast food business, with a sign over the door saying BURGERS

The concept of universal design aims to provide products, services and buildings that can be used by all people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.

‘Universal design’, also referred to as ‘inclusive design’, ensures ‘things’ are easy to use and do not need any special requirement or modification to be usable by everyone, including those older people or those with a disability of some type.

Chances are you have experienced ‘universal design’ without even knowing… You remember when you used a ‘thing’ and thought, “wow, that was easy” – that’s universal design.

Automatic doors, lever type door handles, large light switches, sensor taps, ramps and lifts, padded seating with armrests and backrests are all examples of universal design in the built environment.

Booth seating, bar stools, hard uncomfortable chairs, high counters, overcrowded eating areas with too many chairs and tables, a lack of accessible sanitary facilities, loud music, confusing layouts, cluttered signage, flashing/changing digital menu displays, poor lighting and disengaged staff are all examples of ‘exclusive design’ (the evil and anti-universal design concept…).

Universal design goes beyond accessibility of the built environment and can extend into the delivery of services, including at your local burger joint.

Good customer service, along with considering universal design principles might actually increase clientele and tap into the ‘disability dollar’. In 2013 it was estimated that Australians with disability have a combined disposable income of $54 million per annum. More than enough for a few burgers, fries and shakes each year.

Burger and chips on a plate

Providing good access into the shop, with suitable lighting, the use of non-reflective surfaces, ease of access to service counters and the availability of an accessible toilet are all positive steps towards a universally designed cafe/burger joint.

Having clear signage, with large text in title case (not in block capitals), in a non-confusing font, and with a high-level of visual contrast between the lettering and the background – that’s universal design.

Complementing overhead menus with printed menus that can be handed out to customers – universal design again. Providing pictures alongside each item helps those people with communicative difficulties and those that do not speak English to point to their desired meal.

Numbering each menu item can help too, as it is much easier to say, “I’d like number 4 please“, than “I’d like The Triple Coronary Bypass AKA The Super Stack” (trust me, that’s a real thing).

Having a notebook and pen on standby will also be a backup for staff to pass to customers in some cases. If you really want to go all the way and provide for everyone, have some menus printed in braille text.

The availability of alternate methods of ordering food can help too, with a phone app or website to order in-house, through the drive-through or for home delivery.

It is no surprise that communication, or the lack thereof, can be a big barrier in busy and noisy shops. In some cases, it might be driving some customers away. Try to keep the noise down over customer service counters so people can hear. Not everyone has perfect hearing and background noise and reverberation will make it difficult for some people to communicate with staff. The installation of a counter induction loop system at the service counter is surprisingly not that expensive and will allow people using a hearing aid or cochlear implant to hear much better.

Payments should also be available in a range of options and for those businesses accepting cash only – you’re limiting the options for those people who prefer to swipe a credit card rather than have to produce cold hard cash, which might be difficult for some people. They might just go up the road to the next burger joint accepting a no-minimum charge, tap and go payment.

Burgers sign over a doorway

Awareness of the needs of everyone in society, all being potential customers, is important for all staff. All staff with responsibilities for dealing with members of the public should have a good understanding of disability awareness and the broader community.

Staff should do their jobs in a non-discriminatory way and effectively, patiently and respectfully communicate with older people and those with a disability. They should speak directly to the customer even when they have an assistant or carer. They should not look away, cover their mouth or speak down into a bain-marie for example. Many people rely on visual cues and lip-reading to either understand the spoken words from staff or use these cues to supplement what they are hearing.

In terms of the items on offer on the menu, please provide a range of options for people with dietary requirements. Universal design and vegan/gluten-free options go hand in hand, and without the need for any special requirement or modification (being a principle of universal design). Plus there won’t be all the fuss when ordering “the Triple Coronary Bypass AKA The Super Stack, but can you hold the cheese please and take out the burgers and replace them with vegetables” (I can say this as the vegetarian often having to ask discretely for a special dish at some eateries). A simple little legend on the menu with symbols identifying gluten-free and plant-based options will be well received by many people (including the 375 million vegetarians worldwide (as at 2014)).

Lastly, if you are the owner of a burger, fries and shakes joint and have trained staff in disability awareness and universal design concepts, or employed people with disability, have taken steps to make your establishment more accessible, non-discriminatory and enjoyable for everyone – then boast about it:

  • Tell people.
  • Display stickers on entrances, such as “Assistance Animals Welcome”, “Seniors Card Welcome” etc.
  • Sponsor a local charity.
  • Put it on your website.
  • Post about it on social media.

You might just be surprised at how your business improves.

Please contact Access Central if you have any questions about this post.

Dark Kitchens, Restaurants and BCA/Premises Standards Clause D3.4

Chefs working in a commercial kitchen

Commercial kitchens are fast-moving, dynamic workplaces. Things move quickly and happen as fast as possible.

Staff are preparing food, cooking, washing dishes, cleaning surfaces and floors, receiving deliveries, loading and unloading items from coolrooms and refrigerators and on and on it goes – needless to say, a lot of different activities are undertaken by people working in such an environment.

The same exists for ‘dark kitchens’, being those dedicated to selling via delivery services only, where the only people entering the premises are kitchen staff and delivery drivers/riders.

The DDA Premises Standards Access Code and the current NCC BCA acknowledge that this isn’t a typical work environment and that people with disability could be put into an unsafe situation when entering an environment where people are operating commercial cooking equipment.

Clause D3.4 in both of the references above state exactly the same wording:

D3.4 Exemptions
The following areas are not required to be accessible:
(a) An area where access would be inappropriate because of the particular purpose for which the area is used.
(b) An area that would pose a health or safety risk for people with a disability.
(c) Any path of travel providing access only to an area exempted by (a) or (b).

One could argue that a person with a disability, including those who are blind, have low vision or have a significant mobility disability, wouldn’t be safe in a standard commercial kitchen designed for the needs of the occupants (i.e. a cafe or restaurant).

Since the introduction of the Premises Standards in May 2011, it hasn’t been that clear as to when the exemption provided under Clause D3.4 is applicable. To confirm compliance with the DDA Premises Standards and BCA, this must always be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Previously, the BCA prior to 2011 made it much clearer for project stakeholders to make this determination.

The now superseded BCA 2010 stated:

D3.3 Parts of buildings to be accessible
(a) In a building or part of a building required by Table D3.2 to be accessible—
(i) access must be provided—
(B) to areas normally used by the occupants, excluding any plantroom, commercial kitchen, cleaners’ store room, maintenance accessway, rigging loft, or the like; 

BCA 2010 also stated:

D3.4 Concessions
It is not necessary to provide access for people with disabilities to—
(d) any area if access would be inappropriate because of the particular purpose for which the area is used.

However, to get some better guidance in this matter, the Australian Human Rights Commission released the Guideline on the Application of the Premises Standards (Version 2), which also references commercial kitchens in the statement below:

This clause sets out some general exemptions from the requirement to meet the Deemed-to-Satisfy Provisions of the Access Code and provides details on buildings or parts of buildings not required to be accessible under the Premises Standards (and BCA).

Paragraph D3.4(a) states that accessways are not required to certain areas within buildings where providing access would be ‘inappropriate’ because of the nature of the area or the tasks undertaken in that area.

Paragraph D3.4(b) states that areas that would impose a health or safety risk for people with disability are also not required to be accessible.

These areas could include cleaners store rooms, commercial kitchens, staff serving areas behind bars, cool rooms, rigging lofts, waste-containment areas, foundry floors, abattoir animal processing areas, railway shunting yards, electrical switch rooms, chemical and hazardous materials store areas, loading docks, fire lookouts, plant and equipment rooms and other similar areas.

Assessment of application of this general exemption to specific areas will need to be made on a case-by-case basis. Care needs be taken, however, to ensure that any assessment of the need to utilise this exemption is not based on assumptions about the ability of people with disability or people with a particular type of disability to undertake work in those settings.

Access Central can assist when it is not so crystal clear and a building surveyor/certifier requires additional guidance or an expert opinion on the application of the exemption under Clause D3.4.

It is a simple exercise for us to assess the proposed food or beverage premises design, staff roles and responsibilities, and the functionality of the staff back of house areas.

The Clause D3.4 exemption might also then be a consideration in assessing other aspects of the architectural design, including the need for accessible toilets for cafe or restaurant staff, an accessible staff entrance or an accessible staff car parking space.

However, as stated above – it is always a case-by-case assessment, as there are many aspects to consider to confirm compliance in commercial buildings. Including considering Clause D3.4 for other scenarios and uses, such as juice bars, shopping centre kiosks, bubble tea shops and so on.

If you need assistance when designing food and beverage tenancies please contact our office.

The AFFECTED PART: Do Not Lease a Commercial Tenancy Without Reading This!

Man looking at camera with finger pointed out.

A Costly Mistake

As an access consultant with many years experience, I have lost count of the amount of small businesses who have leased a commercial space, only to find they are forced to undertake extensive and costly building upgrades.

This not only causes a lot of stress for a small business owner, but may potentially see their fit-out budget go through the roof after seeing quotes from builders for upgrades.

In particular, this has been a very common issue for tenants of shops along strip shopping precincts, which historically all had stepped entrances and narrow or recessed doorways.

A gentlemen pushing a lady in a wheelchair past a shop that has two steps and a sign in the window saying NO DOGS

In this post, I share two key things a small business owner really needs to consider before signing any lease:

  1. Building and disability legislation may require you to remove existing stepped entrances into shops and provide new ramp access and possibly a new doorway; and
  2. If you change the use of the tenancy space then building legislation may require you to upgrade existing toilets, corridors, doors and parking spaces and a passenger lift may be required between levels of a building.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 requires that equitable access into premises is available. In 2011, the Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 or Premises Standards for short was introduced, which outlined prescriptive requirements for new building works with the Standards (detailed in Schedule 1 – Access Code). At that time, these prescriptive requirements were also mirrored into the Building Code of Australia (BCA).

Therefore, any new work you are undertaking in an existing building/tenancy under a building approval (construction certificate/building permit etc., depending on what State or Territory you are in) must comply with the Access Code and BCA.

The Premises Standards refers to this new work as the ‘new part’ of the building. The new part must comply. So if you are planning on making changes to the entrance door, this would then form part of the new part and require some thought to how you will deal with the step and provide access for wheelchair users.

However, if you’re fitting out an area that might be considered inappropriate for access for people with disability, then there might be an opportunity for an exemption under Clause D3.4. You can read this post to understand more about Clause D3.4: Commercial Kitchens and BCA / Premises Standards Clause D3.4

More significantly though, which is the cause of much stress for many startups, is the concept of the ‘affected part’. The affected part may be triggered for upgrade in any existing building.

The affected part is defined as the pathway from the new part building works to and including the existing principal pedestrian entrance, and this is generally seen to include any ramps, stairs and step structurally attached to the entrance and forming part of the entrance arrangement.

So if the work is being planned for a small private dining room at the back of a restaurant for example, the affected part would be the pathway from the door into the private dining room back to the existing entrance into the restaurant. Any steps, narrow corridors or doors within this affected part would also technically need to be upgraded too (unless they are managed through the use of a Performance Solution). This may result in the need for some structural work to the entrance doorway, or even automation of the door to offset any reduced circulation spaces around the door.

The Premises Standards does include a concession for some scenarios. This is referred to as the Lessee Concession and would be applicable where the tenant is leasing the tenancy/building, the tenant is planning the works and is making the application for the building approval and the tenancy space is within a building with at least one other tenant.

An example would be a small juice bar or cafe on the ground floor of  a three-storey office building. The Lessee Concession allows the tenant to complete the new part works without upgrading the affected part.

Garden cafe building with extensive glass windows.jpeg

Lastly, if you change the use of the tenancy space then building legislation may require you to upgrade existing toilets, corridors, doors , parking spaces and a passenger lift may be required between levels of a building. This is certainly the case in Victoria and some other States, where you might need to provide a new accessible toilet, ambulant toilets, new accessible car parking space or even a passenger lift between levels in some cases.

The solution is do your homework before signing a lease.

Discuss your planned use and works with a building surveyor/certifier and an accredited access consultant to help identify any project risks (i.e. time delays, cost blowouts and your own health).

Please contact Access Central if you have any questions.

Fire Stairs Need Accessible Features Too! But Why?

Old fire stair looking down the centre of the stair to the bottom.

This might come as a surprise, but fire exit stairs in Australia need some level of accessibility provided, even when they are just used as an exit path between levels of a building during an emergency.

This helps people move through a stairway to an exit and a safe place outside the building. Having a suitable handrail to hold is important for many people, including those older occupants, people with some level of mobility limitations, or those who need support during what could be a stressful event.

The ability to identify the edges of stair treads also aids people with low vision and provides great benefit for everyone. Ultimately, a high contrast to the treads edges will help to reduce slips, trips and falls in the stairs, the last thing one wants during an emergency evacuation.

Back in May 2011, with the introduction of the Premises Standards and changes to the Building Code of Australia, we saw the first of the accessible features introduced into fire-isolated stairs.

Fire exit stairs have a specific purpose when only used for emergency egress, therefore, they do not need to comply with all aspects of the stair provisions of AS 1428.1 (2009). But there are some relevant requirements that help provide a more inclusive, usable, and safer stair during an emergency evacuation of a building.

BCA/Premises Standards Access Code Clause D3.3(a)(iii) introduced in May 2011 states “for a fire-isolated stairway, clause 11.1(f) and (g) of AS 1428.1”. This means a fire-isolated exit stair (but not a non-fire-isolated exit stair…) must have compliant stair tread nosing strips, in a compliant profile, and with a minimum of 30% luminance contrast.

Yellow stair tread nosing strips on brown coloured concrete, view looking down on treads

BCA Clause D2.17(a)(vi) was added in May 2013, which states “(vi) in a required exit serving an area required to be accessible, designed and constructed to comply with clause 12 of AS 1428.1”

What does this mean, well, the BCA now requires at least one handrail in each flight of an exit stair, whether it is an fire-isolated stair or not, to have a handrail profile that complies with AS 1428.1 (2009) profile. An example is shown below.

Modern fire stairs, view down from landing of handrail

BCA Clause D2.13(a)(v), Clause D2.14(a)(ii) and Table D2.14  were added in May 2014 prescribing minimum slip-resistance classifications for stairs and landings.

However, notwithstanding the minimum requirements for accessible features in a fire-isolated stair or an exit stair discussed above, there is nothing wrong with a developer or designer going above the minimum requirements and introducing some of the other aspects of AS 1428.1 (2009) or other best-practice references, to a fire-isolated stair or an exit stair.

The most obvious benefits would be:

  • A handrail in an accessible profile on each side of the stairs;
  • A wider width beyond 1000mm, allowing for the movement of slower and faster people, and the contraflow of emergency services personnel; and
  • Larger landings on each occupied level of the building, that have been designed as refuge areas for people who have difficulty using stairs, those who might need to rest, or those occupants who have a mobility disability and need assistance to evacuate the building.

You can also read more about how to make buildings safer in an emergency here

Luminance Contrast of Doorways: Do you See it? You Should

Old red door in a white washed brick wall

Doors need to be visible for two main reasons:

  1. So we can find them; and
  2. So we can safely move through them.

The Building Code of Australia (part of the National Construction Code) and the Premises Standards (under the DDA), both require compliance of doors under the general provisions of Table D3.1 (i.e. “to and within all areas”) and at entrances under Clause D3.2.

AS 1428.1 (2009) outlines two specific requirements for luminance contrast of doors. Luminance contrast is defined as “the light reflected from one surface or component, compared to the light reflected from another surface or component.”

Fully glazed doors need a visual indicator glazing band across the door so it is more visible to people, particularly those with some level of vision loss, which is why the band must be solid and 75mm wide as per below:

6.6 Visual indicators on glazing

Where there is no chair rail, handrail or transom, all frameless or fully glazed doors, sidelights, including any glazing capable of being mistaken for a doorway or opening, shall be clearly marked for their full width with a solid and non-transparent contrasting line.

The contrasting line shall be not less than 75 mm wide and shall extend across the full width of the glazing panel. The lower edge of the contrasting line shall be located between 900 mm and 1000 mm above the plane of the finished floor level.

Any contrasting line on the glazing shall provide a minimum of 30% luminance contrast when viewed against the floor surface or surfaces within 2 m of the glazing on the opposite side.

Also, there must be a 50mm band around each door, as per below (noting, that only one of the listed options is required – not all of them):

13.1 Luminance contrast

All doorways shall have a minimum luminance contrast of 30% provided between—
(a) door leaf and door jamb;
(b) door leaf and adjacent wall;
(c) architrave and wall;
(d) door leaf and architrave; or
(e) door jamb and adjacent wall.
The minimum width of the area of luminance contrast shall be 50 mm.

Additional areas where a higher luminance contrast of door features would be very beneficial include:

  • Door handles
  • The vertical leading edge of glass doors
  • A lower level visual indicator glazing band for shorter people and children

For more information, Access Central has published a specialised website just for luminance contrast –

DeafSpace Architecture Moves into the Mainstream

Business man standing in front of a whiteboard looking at two people

The Deaf community live in a world designed for people who can hear, but a new design movement challenges how buildings should be built, where sensory experiences and interaction with the fabric of the building takes precedence.

Unique situations can necessitate a rethink of accepted beliefs and processes. The Gallaudet University is one such case where accepted design concepts have been questioned. In fact, the university challenged the principles of architecture in terms of how deaf people communicate within space and have since developed a new understanding of how a person’s sensory experience can be enhanced within the built environment.

Founded in 1864, the Gallaudet University is located in Washington, DC, USA. It is the only liberal arts educational institution totally tailored to deaf and hard of hearing students in the USA, with a school motto that says “there is no other place like this in the world“. This is certainly the case, not just for the unique learning environment that has been created, but for the design concepts that have developed from this environment.

Whilst students include those that are profoundly deaf, they also include those that have various levels of reduced hearing or hearing loss and those who may have cochlear implants or hearing aids. The form of communication used across the campus is primarily American Sign Language.

Researchers involved in this growing design movement created the DeafSpace Project in 2005. The DeafSpace Project is a partnership between the Department of ASL/Deaf Studies at the University and the campus architect, Hansel Bauman, from hbhm architects.

The DeafSpace Project adopted a new approach that looked at the ways Deaf people use and occupy public space, which can be uniquely different from how those who can hear use the same space. Together they developed best-practice principles which catalogue over one hundred and fifty distinct architectural patterns.

The Project has now been codified into the DeafSpace Design Guidelines that are being used to design new buildings and upgrade existing buildings on Gallaudet’s campus. These principles align very well with the principles of ‘Universal Design’ and like many of these design aspects, they not only benefit the Deaf community, they provide great benefit for everyone.

The DeafSpace Project has also been recognised for their general contribution to accessibility and the universal design movement and won the Gold Award in the Category of ‘Regional Planning’ from the International Association of Universal Design in 2015. It’s obvious that consideration of these Guidelines will extend far beyond the boundaries of the Gallaudet University in the future.

The Guidelines consider five basic design principles:

  1. Space and proximity;
  2. Sensory reach;
  3. Mobility and proximity;
  4. Light and colour; and
  5. Acoustics

Space and proximity: Space is particularly important for people communicating by signing to each other. Therefore, people need to maintain a clear line of sight to each other to read facial expressions and sign language. This means that group spaces, classrooms and lecture rooms are arranged in semi-circles or ‘U’ shapes so that all students and lecturers can see each other. It relies on creating public space environments with good wayfinding and visibility over other areas.

Sensory reach: Awareness of ones’ surroundings is essential for people who are deaf. The fabric of the building can play an important part in how people can sense their environment through other visual or tactile cues. For example, mirrors and reflective surfaces help a person perceive movement within their immediate environment. Transparent or opaque doors and walls help to identify changes in lighting, movement, or shadows outside the confines of a room.

Mobility and proximity: People who communicate by non-verbal means need a wider ‘signing space’. This means pathways need to be wide enough for two people to walk side by side, with sufficient space to sign to each other and enough visual field or distance. If they were to approach a door or other obstacle, the two would move around or through the obstacle together which means someone might be walking backwards or sideways as communication continues. For this reason, the use of stairs is avoided as they require more care and attention, therefore, wide ramps are preferred where there is a change of level. Good design of circulation spaces makes it easier to communicate and safer as people signing can move without being distracted by hazards.

Light and colour: When the built environment has poor lighting it restricts the ability to communicate well. People who sign or lip read need lighting conditions that reduce shadows, visual confusion and glare on surfaces. Colour and lighting are key features of providing an environment for good non-verbal communication, with diffused lighting, contrasting colour schemes and suitable backgrounds that reduce eye strain.

Acoustics: Spaces should be designed to reduce background noise and reverberation. Many people with reduced or residual hearing may use assistive devices such as hearing aids or cochlear implants to enhance the sound around them. However, these devices will also amplify background noise too which could interfere with the ability to hear, understand, and pay attention. It can also be uncomfortable and lead to great frustration. Therefore, the use of these devices can prove ineffective in environments with a building fabric that allows sounds to echo or reflect off surfaces.

DeafSpace is a great initiative that challenges perceptions and presents being deaf as a positive that can help bring about new perspectives in life. This is certainly the case with the ideas presented in DeafSpace. The application of the DeafSpace principles not only benefits the proportion of society with reduced or no hearing, but can benefit everyone in society throughout all stages of a person’s life – this is true universal design.