Towards European guidelines for an accessible built environment: An analysis of the "European Manual" from the Nordic experience

Internet publication URL:

CIB logo



Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991


Towards European requirements and guidelines for an accessible built environment:
An analysis of the "European Manual" from the Nordic experience.

Hans Örnhall, Boverket, Sweden


Since the beginning of the 1970s, the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) have been working together on guidelines for building regulations for accessibility. These guidelines state the functional requirements for accessible building. All buildings open to the public must be fully accessible, while working places and dwellings can have a standard of accessibility in accordance with the rules of the individual country. Before this meeting, representatives of Finland, Norway and Sweden have met to discuss the "European Manual".

The most important factor to be noticed is that our populations are growing older and becoming gradually more disabled in the environment. According to figures from OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), Luxembourg and Sweden presently have the largest share of old people. As for the Swedish experience, at least 90 per cent of the elderly live in their own dwellings and take care of themselves with the assistance of, for example, municipal home help services.

Another factor to be observed is that, as in other European countries, we are building only new dwellings in a scale corresponding to about 1 per cent of the existing housing stock. As a result of this we should also discuss the question of guidelines or a manual for rebuilding in order to get an accessible society.

Critical remarks

To begin with we have the general point of view that, with the exception of impaired mobility, all disabilities have been too briefly described and dealt with in the manual. Impaired sight and impaired hearing are some examples. Another one is the allergy problem, which must not be forgotten. We have especially noticed that the problems with allergy are growing in a welfare state.

There are also regional differences depending on the climate that must be taken into consideration. For example we are of the opinion that all slopes from 1:10 and steeper, when covered with ice or snow, are dangerous, even if they are short.

Before getting into details we would like to emphasize the important principle that future adaptation must be as easy as possible, which has not been taken into consideration in the guidelines for bathrooms. As for our experiences, guidelines should not contain design solutions.

The following aspects were mentioned in the Nordic discussions regarding some details in the manual:

  • too many dangerous and doubtful solutions for stairs and ramps
  • details about contrast and relief are missing
  • space for stretchers are not shown
  • unclear design of platform lifts
  • the problem of the power needed for opening a door should be better explained
  • revolving doors must be completed with accessible doors
  • unrealistic measurement (1.3 m) for staircases in ordinary housing
  • every accessible toilet must be equipped with a wash basin
  • very local design of kitchens, bathrooms and toilets


Our opinion is that the question of accessibility inside Europe or inside the borders of the EC can not be solved through authorized handbooks or guidelines. We propose that an Interpretative Document (ID) related to the Construction Products Directive (CPD) and the Public Works Directive should be prepared by the EC. This has been done in the other parts of the building and planning area. If the Document follows the directives, it shall specify the essential requirements in one part and the characteristics of products, which can be exported, in a second part.

Moreover, I would like to mention that ECE has described the aspects of accessibility in the compendium "Model provisions for building regulations". In this compendium it is emphasized that the responsible authorities are to stipulate what kind of buildings must be accessible.

Finally, we would like to express that in the manual there is good information, especially in Part A. On the other hand, part B seems to be a result of several compromises. The manual is one more in the row of informative handbooks for architects and planners. However, if we intend to get a breakthrough for an accessible society, such a document must be short and clear. As mentioned above, it should be produced directly within EC. Suggested title "Accessibility in Use" (to be compared with "Safety in Use" TC4/014). A new EC legislation must also be creatively expressed in order to give possibilities to achieve a higher standard of accessibility today as well as in the future.


Budapest CIB Report Contents |  CIB Contents