Getting in!

Access to buildings is an important concern – just as much as discrimination and other issues.

ften, even when a legal framework is in place governing certain aspects of our lives, some serious issues are overlooked. Of course, opinion differs over what is serious and what is not. My opinion is that restricted accessibility is a type of discrimination, just more subtle.

I have come across several instances in the last few weeks in the course of my work.

A well-equipped motor dealership in downtown Durban has just been completed, in which the mechanical installations and finishes are mostly imported and have been beautifully put together. The architect appears to have the relevant legislative standards in general at his fingertips; however, the accessible toilet on the first floor does not comply with the Standard for access. The necessary remedial work will be expensive and messy. In the Standard in general there are very few diagrams, but as it happens, for this particular facility there are comprehensive ones. What happened?

In two high-end housing developments in the outer West area of Durban there are buildings that contain a ‘Club House/Gym/Conference Facility’ as a separate unit. All owners in the development are debited with the cost of membership of these facilities. The gyms on the first floor are not accessible to everyone, however, as there is no lift. Again, it is difficult to remedy this situation because of the nature of the design – the buildings are located on a sloping site. The question of access was clearly not taken into account by the architect, the building committee who briefed the architect or the building control officer at the Local Authority (LA). It’s dismaying that the architect did not assert his authority as he is required to do in terms of the Professional Code of Ethics.

In a sectional-title block of flats on the KZN South Coast (many are used by holiday makers), controversy has arisen about the parking arrangements. It appears that each unit is assigned a parking bay in the basement. A new owner has bought a unit here, aware that the bay assigned to his unit is quite a distance from the lift, as well as up a half flight of steps. After taking legal advice, the managing agents have decided that this awkward access is acceptable and is in line with the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, even though the intention of this law has clearly been contravened. They claim that it is an “old” building, constructed at a time when the regulations did not require accessibility at all entrances, but this argument is disingenuous: if it were a “fire-risk” issue, for example, it would be chased up by (at least) the insurance company and the LA.

I hope that what guides us to do the right thing has less to do with finances and regulations and more to do with our moral sense.

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