Regulation of the non-handicapping environment in Hungary

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


Regulation of the non-handicapping environment in Hungary

Tibor Polinszky, POLI-Studio Ltd., Hungary 


Architecture is a creative activity to meet the requirements of man and society. Construction is successful or not successful to the extent that the built environment is able to meet all human needs. In designing the environment, average social requirements have become manifested, thus the quality of the built environment has been raised or decreased to an average level. The consequences are buildings constructed to the requirements of the "average man" who is 30 - 50 years old, 160 - 180 cm in height, and weighs 50 - 80 kg., does medium standard physical and mental work and meets standard principles and performance requirements.

In the future we have to develop our environment more carefully and consider special needs and the abilities of people who are disabled.

Previous designs by architects in Hungary have created daily problems for 2 - 2.5 million people of the country's population of 10.5 million. Included are 300-500 thousand physically disabled persons; children below the age of 12; persons over the age of 55-60, as well as those-who cannot fully utilize their environment due to illness, accident or temporary disability.

Goals of the Hungarian architects

What be should be the task of architects to meet the needs and requirements of disabled people? The objective is to provide disabled people with the possibility of participation, contribution, potential progress, and successful implementation. They should be given the possibility and not compensation! In this respect the task of architects is similar to the experts of medical rehabilitation or social workers who work to help people with disabilities to become able to utilize their capabilities to the maximum possible extent. Designing barrier-free buildings requires the adaptation of the existing environment so that:

  • all locations within buildings, the premises and furnishings should be accessible
  • it should be possible to enter the building, the premises in the usual way
  • it should be possible to use the building, its premises, internal areas, furnishings and facilities.

Additionally, we Hungarian architects expect the environment (buildings and their parts) to accommodate physically disabled people for the function or task which the building/facilities were designed and meant to be used. "Utility" of the environment in this sense means, that five tasks are to be met:

  1. Reachability
  2. Availability
  3. Usability
  4. Recognizability
  5. Safety


Existing legislation of non-handicapping environment in Hungary

The following regulations are meant to provide for the above non-handicapped environment in Hungary:

  • National Building Regulation (OÉSZ) (provides for overall regulations)
  • The Decree by the Minister of Interior on Fire Prevention, together with related special standards (fire prevention specification, issues related to escape from fire)
  • The standards of public information symbols, regulating the symbol of wheelchair user as physically disabled, elderly people, and mother with child.

Investors, designers and the interested parties have much information at their disposal on non-handicapping environments, but such information can be had only on special request, and the specifications are not mandatory. Thus, in Hungary, the regulations related to non-handicapping environments cannot be regarded as being complete.

In the field of barrier-free environments, relations with researchers outside of Hungary have existed since 1981, from the "International Year of Disabled Persons". Knowing the works and results of research institutes, we can say that Hungarian research has, up to 1988, no individual result in non-handicapping environment and building planning. In the beginning of the 1980's we elaborated - taking into consideration the standards of other countries - several directives and planning references, principally in the field of wheelchair transport and traffic, for assuring place for wheelchairs. It was on the initiative of the conferences in 1981 for the IYDP that they started to develop regulations on designing non-handicapping environments. Prior to that work a number of analyses and comparative studies had been made, and in 1981 the first Technical Designing Guidelines (MTS 1981/4) were issued under the commission of the Technical Development Department of Ministry of Construction.

The first actual step in national regulation was the publication of Technical Instructions "Environmental Requirements of Physically Disabled People" (MI-156-83) by the Hungarian Office of Standards. Experiences related in the above works, as well as the studies prepared around 1981, led to the modification of the National Building Regulation (OÉSZ) in 1986. 

Fundamental research work in Hungary

In 1986 a research project began in this field at the Institute for Building Science with financial assistance from the National Scientific Research Foundation and the participation of the National Federation of Association of Physically Disabled People. In the years 1987-89 studies were made of 50 people using wheelchairs and of 24 people testing thermal comfort to investigate the problems of physically disabled people and comparing the differences between Hungarian and international standards.

In the beginning, this research work already had the possibility to compare our results with the recommendations and prescriptions of other countries. Examining the causes of the divergences, the following points were observed:

  • In the current economic and social situation of Hungary, the primary aim is to resolve the provision, education and retraining of the most disabled persons. This can be realized primarily in the framework of institutes. The seriously disabled persons can be placed in these institutes.
  • Starting from the Hungarian production capacities, we have to use more fixed aids and equipment because the manufacturing of different flexible solutions is not possible yet owing to the volume of the series.
  • The greater basis area and equipment are due to the fact that there is a wide variety of wheelchairs used in Hungary, their dimensions and mechanical properties differing from those of other countries. Furthermore, the stock of Hungarian wheelchairs is very heterogeneous, due to the individual needs and possibilities. With this stock we cannot apply the good solutions of other countries. We found differences between the measurements of wheelchairs used in Hungary and wheelchairs produced and used in foreign countries. These differences existed not only in size but also in the materials and the weight, their conducting capacity and if they were collapsible.
  • The Hungarian building industry is not so large that the best and most suitable materials and construction might always be used.
  • There is a difference in the basic module for residential buildings: In Hungary we have a module of 15 cm, in other countries 10 cm are used.

In Hungarian integration and adaptation tasks we were obliged to take into consideration that our basic standards for apartments are 70-75 sq.m. Since these apartments are considered to be average size, you can understand the troubles we have to solve. Previously, the Hungarian conceptions for apartment projects have been inclined to plan minimal space for hygienic and other conveniences, assuring a greater useful space for living in the apartment. But nowadays we have to leave the needs of the so-called "average man" which requires new views and ideas in our planning work. The design should be based on the determination of the proper spaces for each function. This is what we rely upon today when we want to provide apartments according to demands not only for the elderly and disabled but for everybody. Of course, these demands are strongly influenced by the financial conditions both with the state and private home building.

The research project's main aims

Due to the above-mentioned reasons, we elaborated our research. We further developed and adapted to actual Hungarian circumstances, the methodology of research of function analysis as used by our friends at the Technical University of Lund (Sweden).

  • The first aim of our research was to formulate under Hungarian (or socialist) circumstances a group of disabled persons who were able to use the built environment and to describe the characteristics of their activity.
  • The second aim was for people with disabilities to describe how they use their environment, to determine their surface needs on the basis of testing. We wanted to observe basic movements, from which several movements (i.e., their requirement system) could be synthesized in a later phase.
  • Thirdly, in evaluation of the test results we wanted to define how the foreign research results, norms and standards may be adapted to our circumstances, and what would be the standard solutions in Hungary.
  • Finally, documentation was made of the investigated cases.



One of the most important parts of the vocational training is to give many good examples for the using of the built environment. Our aim with the rehabilitation is to provide a possibility for disabled persons to use and enjoy the objects surrounding them. We want to achieve this with the help of their active participation. Our aim with the adaptations of the environment is that, with minimum alterations, the utilization of buildings and their elements will be possible for all people. The study was followed by a further study of 24 apartments in which wheelchair users reside. To utilize the results of the above studies the POLI-Studio Architectural Research, Designing and Consulting Ltd. was established in 1990 and later, based on its success, a foundation called Access Hungary was launched.


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