Access legislation

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

Access legislation

D.P. Philippen, Institute T.L.P.e.V., Traben-Trarbach, Germany


Seminar Contents 

Legislation on accessibility in general can only be realized if a 'barrier-free environment for all people' at comparable cost is feasible. Only if the environment is built and conceived to enable any one person, regardless of his or her personal ability or disability and without special-purpose construction, to live independent, self sustained, self determined and integrated within the community of all others, only then is significant accessible environment and technology realized.

The new German DIN 18025 Part 2 (part 1 is for the wheelchair users) is the most advanced building standard for a general concept of barrier-free environment. It is getting great political support and is on the way into legislation, becoming the foundation for a general building code. This building code will be preventive and adaptable to the individual situation, without the requirements of 'special housing'. 'All' will be accessible for all people.

The new standards can be an example as a joint-European effort and concept to solve problems with disabled and old age requirements in housing, environmental, and urban developments. This new set of regulations concentrates on integration by rendering multiples of a modular concept for any given and future situation of each individual person.

A major part is the basic and different ergonomics involved. No room sizes are specified. The standards define the space needed to use an individual object, e.g. door, toilet, cabinet etc. Such space requirements are presented in the form of "frames". These frames can be handled like a puzzle. The frames will not only be added on like a puzzle, they can be combined with each other with overlapping free space areas, as long as the individual space definition is not decreased.

The basic size of the space frame is a square of 120 cm x 120 cm within the direct living area, which, for specific 'wheelchair-homes' only (i.e., user with electric wheelchair) increases up to 150 cm x 150 cm in part two of the new standards. The free space areas defined by these frames further consider the way and from what side or from what position an object is being used. The transfer to a toilet is defined from one side position, from a frontal position and from an angular position.

All general areas in homes or multi-story housing are sized to this larger basic dimension of 150 cm x 150 cm, since everybody, no matter what type of mobility aid is used, shall find unrestricted access and independently make use of whatever facilities there are.

The basic ergonomics and space frame model is a development by the Institute T.L.P.e.V and has been field-tested over a period of 12 years. It is used in building codes by several countries. Only a few problem areas in these standards have a restricted definition; in the important part 2 of the Standard, it is a matter of elevators, making all levels of all houses accessible for everyone.

When considering existing buildings especially (which have to be changed in due time) the cost of demanding an elevator for each and every building would endanger the way to transfer these standards into legislative codes. Therefore the standards define that provisions have to be made, in the planning of any new building, that an elevator (110 cm x 140 cm floor space, with a 90 cm wide door) can be integrated at any given later time without the need of construction changes. Hence, the position and the space required by an elevator has to be included in every building.

An extension of the same concept has been launched for all public buildings, (DIN 18024 Part 2), for playgrounds and playing equipment (DIN 18034 and 7926), for a barrier-free concept of job sites, etc. applying the same basic requirements for free access and use by and for all persons.

Action taken to move federal and state legislation in Germany on this general barrier-free concept

It is not enough to just try and convince politicians that a need for legislation exists, or to simply inform them about solutions which are feasible to experts; a combination of action is needed. This action has to include a fair amount of pressure, documenting the presence of the size of the population involved. Only solutions should be presented. They have to be packaged in a language of simple interpretation and offer, in just a few sentences, leading slogans and words that can be handled by political motivated forces.

Instead of the questions politicians are confronted with, they should be educated to use applicable, easy to understand answers. In Germany the new DIN Standards are transferred into legislation supported by a resolution (signed by organizations and representatives of about 4 million citizens) and by an easy to handle slogan: 'barrier-free for all people'.

All interests of consumers, old and disabled people representing organizations, government persons in charge for social welfare in these fields, and just about any given self-help group in Germany, have been tied together into this resolution. It has been presented successfully on every given level of administration reaching from federal, down to city and local urban village administration.

But that is not enough. It has to be certified that general barrier-free housing does not increase the cost of housing to any great extent and that it will improve the quality and the sales value of homes without increasing costs. At the same time it will solve the problem of extra or special housing, which is no longer needed.

The solution offered will have to be applied to solve the matter of independently housing old people; to provide an applicable solution of a private and personal home, instead of institutional homes; and to secure independence in their own home through community-based services and rehabilitation instead of institutional care.

First, we forced state legislation by applying public pressure to support experimental building projects which would initiate and use the new standards in order to have a certifying comparison on building costs.

Secondly, we argued with the Federal Government in public to prove that making all housing barrier-free would not increase the cost of housing. This resulted in two grants by the Federal Government to investigate the real building cost for applying barrier-free housing. The results show that the difference in cost between traditional construction and the new type of barrier-free building construction and technology is negligible. The studies resulted in additional investments stated to be 3.01 to 3.2 per cent of total cost, which can be neglected since rearranging of financing and logistics in a building project, can very well compensate for this minor increase.

The first available results from experimental building projects show, for three different housing sizes (8, 16 and 64 apartments), a total average increase of 2.8 - 3.1 per cent (excluding elevator cost).

In two 3 and 4 story projects, elevators have actually been included, but in a way to serve more than one single building. The best solution combined an elevator to serve four buildings. Including the cost for the elevator, the total cost was raised by a factor of 6.3 per cent.

In addition to this, it is of the utmost importance that with new standards of this kind, which deal in part with matters not commonly known, different disabilities are explained and presented to architects in a way so that they will understand the new standards. It is not sufficient to only do this by publishing in trade magazines, etc. The new ways have to be presented in the form of seminars and workshops. Therefore, in Germany, before the new standards where published we traveled across the country and successfully offered seminars in different cities organized by the architectural organizations and in cooperation with local municipal administration.

Finally, each new set of standards involves other cross-referencing standards. We made contact to each commission of such standards and sold our idea of barrier-free environment. This prompted other expert groups to adapt whatever was controversial to the new barrier-free understanding. This was done for details in heating, plumbing, general utility, electrical installation, elevators etc.


One additional point should be stressed. We do not have enough fully trained experts in this field of rehabilitation technology or rehabilitation engineering. The opportunities for such education are insufficient. We have the experience and curriculum to start lectures right now, but we are still looking for a country with open-minded universities to really start off on a full time course for rehabilitation engineering.

Experts are needed for rehabilitation and the development of barrier-free environments and technology. This is the missing link in engineering education. Germany might start with a new curriculum for a five-semester university study program, applicable for architects and engineers to master rehabilitation engineering closing this missing link in technical education.

The extensive curriculum includes an additional 6 - 8 month internship in rehabilitation centers, homes and clinical settings and contains a two-semester basic course on rehabilitation therapy and medicine. It will offer specialization for a choice of several professional directions including architecture, industrial and general engineering, product design, administration and social law, teaching etc. leading to a Masters Degree. So far, we are still in the process of discussion. Even with support of the Federal Government to finance the first five years with 50 per cent of all cost, nothing is finalized.


It is not enough to solve the problems, we have to use modern marketing to sell the solutions. We have to create the need in other peoples mind. We have to apply modern marketing methods and make use of a logistic for presentation, selling and brain-washing just like selling Coke or MacDonald's hamburgers, where everybody automatically thinks of those two names whenever the products are mentioned. We can not only depend on people reading, we have to explain, we have to demonstrate and transfer interdisciplinary knowledge across the line of professional boundaries.

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