Introducing access legislation for architects and planners in Mauritius

Avinash Bhandari, of the Ministry of Works in Mauritius, describes features to be included in the construction of buildings in order to ensure accessibility and safety for as broad a segment of the population as possible. He outlines the current state of accessibility in Mauritius and how it could be improved. Internet publication URL:

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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments
Harare, Zimbabwe, January 16-18, 1992

Introducing access legislation for
architects and planners in Mauritius

Avinash Bhandari, Ministry of Works, Mauritius

The primary objective is to drive the awareness of architects, planners, developers and contractors towards introducing and implementing the legislation for the elderly and disabled in Mauritius. Shelter for the elderly must relate to human values and needs of old age. In 1991, 2 out of every 25 Mauritians were over 60 years old (nearly 8 per cent of the population). With the changing social habits of Mauritians, the need for housing for the growing segment of the population is imminent. As people get older they undergo physical changes which weaken their sensory abilities. Some have difficulty in climbing stairs or slopes, others need walking sticks and a few may need to use wheelchairs. Vision becomes less acute, arthritis or rheumatism makes it difficult to turn door knobs, handles or taps. These difficulties ought to be minimized or completely overcome in the design of buildings. The need for physical security, affordable support services, and sympathetic management would become a major consideration in the large and growing population of the elderly Mauritians. The guidelines are intended to help planners and architects to design features in new constructions as modifications to existing structures are far more expensive.

With retirement planning in Mauritius, elderly people are today better off financially for their later years than before. Nevertheless, there are certain natural changes that come with age. A barrier-free design, encouraging independence and self-help can compensate these physiological changes.

Design process

Careful planning and good designing are the primary steps which include function, aesthetics and utility. All three components must be carried out in buildings to meet the full range of support that may be required in old age. In function, the needs of the elderly are considered to arrive at the performance criteria for a building, which is vital for the architect/planner.

Access and circulation

Facilities within buildings including emergency exits should be accessible for persons with disabilities and elderly people. Resting space in between floor climbing should be provided. Corridors should be wide and have slip resistant floor coverings and high lighting without glare. Round-section handrails should be provided on both sides and allow for a wheelchair (a minimum distance between 86 - 96 cm). The height of the handrails is to be 90 cm with a good grip to support the weight of an average adult. The ends of the handrails should turn into walls to indicate they are ending. Finish for the corridor walls on both sides is to take care of the bumper effects from wheelchairs, grocery baskets, etc. Carpet, tiles or plastic are recommended as finish. An emergency system of battery lighting should be provided throughout buildings. Entrances and doors should be under cover and easily accessible for wheelchairs. Doors should be easy to open, i.e. automatic sliding or conventional doors with low effort door knobs. Fire doors should operate by a thermal/smoke alarm system. A shelf beside doors helps old people to put down packages while opening doors.

Elevators are essential, even if not binding by law, for all buildings higher than two storeys. This would encourage mobility for those requiring canes, wheelchairs or crutches. The elevator design should allow enough time for people to leave and get into the elevator. Elevators should adjust to floor levels at every stop and handrails should be provided on three sides of the elevator. Doors should open and close slowly. An alarm system or intercom should connect the elevator cab to a bell located in the manager's office or to an emergency unit, i.e. police station, fire services, etc.

Stairs should not have more than ten steps at a stretch. They should not have projected risings or open steps. Finish should be non-slippery. Handrails should be on both sides and extending at least 30 cm beyond the top and bottom of stairways and ramps. Where changes in level occur, ramps should be introduced. It is economical to have a ramp instead of an elevator in a two-storey complex. To prevent wheelchair users from rolling off, the edges on both sides should be elevated by a curb at least 5 cm high or a guard rail 20 cm above the ramps. A gradient of 1:20 is preferred but must never increase 1:12 and for not more than 9 meters distance. Ramp landings should extend beyond door swings by at least 90 cm. Top and bottom landings should be at least 150 cm long whereas the intermediates ones 170 cm and spaced at not exceeding 9 meter intervals or where a change of direction occurs. Handrails should be provided on both sides at a height of 85 cm. The minimum clearance between handrails for a wheelchair should range between 86 cm to 96 cm. Round section handrails 4 cm in diameter are recommended to assure a firm grip. Finishes for ramps should be slip-resistant. Exterior concrete ramps should be brushed; wooden ramps with moisture-proof finish and interior ramps finished with textural tiles, grooved hardwood or lightly woven carpeting.

Security, safety and privacy

People need to feel secure but not lonely. Apartments should have a burglar alarm system as well as an intercom system to screen calls at the entrance. The alarm system should be centrally controlled in the building or close enough so that help can arrive fast. The alarm system should be located strategically, one in the bathroom - a site of many accidents - and one in the bedroom. These should be no higher than 60 cm from the floor so that a person lying on floor could easily reach it. The receiving terminal should have staff round the clock.

Fire safety is a very important aspect in building, especially in high-rises which should be equipped with common access and egress corridors with staff assistance. It is recommended to have fire-separated areas of refuge such as elevator lobbies, separate rooms, sections of corridors or landings, etc. Individual balconies could serve as refuge from smoke as well as an escape point to fire brigade ladders. There are often those with sight, hearing or mobility disabilities who might need special assistance in case of fire. In such locations, the building's plans, including these areas, are deposited with the Fire Department at the time of Building Plans approval. This helps the Fire Department to carry out evacuations in the event of fire.


Residential apartments, public and commercial buildings, in general, should be designed in such a way so that these premises may also be used by persons whose mobility and ability to orientate is restricted due to age, infirmity or disability. Existing buildings, while being renovated, should take into consideration the accessibility standards that may be required for the elderly or disabled. Some services, for example, may be located on the ground floor for elderly and disabled if it is not reasonably possible to construct elevators between floors.

In Mauritius there are no building statutes or norms requiring accessibility for the elderly or disabled persons. The government, since the proclamation of the year of persons with disabilities in 1981, has taken upon it the challenge of providing for the needs of people with physical disabilities in all its public buildings. However, in the absence of firm legislation, these statutes and norms are still flexible in Mauritius.

Further recommendations for access legislation

At the moment, there is no access legislation in Mauritius. The building codes and regulations date back to 1929. The Architect Act was passed in 1988 and the practice was legalized very recently. Improvements, therefore, would be required to existing buildings as well as existing infrastructures to cater for macro-accessibility. Minor modifications should be brought to existing public as well as private buildings to cater for disabled people by introduction of ramps and other facilities. Improvements to infrastructures such as parks, seaside resorts and beaches, footpaths and sidewalks must be made in order to encourage the participation of wheelchair users.

The public transportation system should be improved in its bus service. There is also taxi service as well as a planned railway network. Public and private buildings must be made accessible by introduction of ramps and elevators. Easy access should be provided for entering recreational areas such as game parks, open air theaters, museums and seaside resorts. Football is the national sport in Mauritius, and every effort should be geared to make our stadiums accessible to the disabled community. The transport system should cater for everyone, with easy access into buses, taxis, trains, etc. Examples are available of elevator installation in public transport systems in developed countries to cater for disabled people.

Since the declaration in 1981 as the Year of the Disabled by the United Nations, Mauritius has embarked upon several programs, the political as well as the social media to improve the environment of the community of disabled people. The Ministry of Social Security, responsible for the rehabilitation of the elderly and the disabled people in Mauritius, will soon be constructing its first barrier-free designed Rest Center on a two-acre sea front site with all facilities, including indoor and outdoor sports activities. The current policy, implemented by the Mauritian government, of constructing 50,000 housing units by the turn of the century should take into account needs and requirements of the disabled community in multi-storey housing projects with each unit of a barrier-free design.

Guidelines should be formulated for architects, planners and developers by the introduction of a checklist system in the absence of actual access legislation for barrier-free design of projects. The requirements of disabled people should be voiced loudly in all private and government sectors for the development of the country. Special time should also be allotted to such media as the press, radio and television, for the promotion of public awareness of the disabled community in everyday life and activities. Special forums should be organized by the professional community with full participation in the development of projects before their implementation. Special scholarships and stipends should be available exclusively for disabled people to enable them to study in any field of their choice.

The experience of other countries should be shared in the formation of access legislation, and their enforcement shared with a common interest and goal. A regular monitoring exercise should be carried out in all developing countries with the idea of recording the extent of enforcement of access legislation. Prizes or rewards should be offered to the countries giving the best example and performance for a barrier-free environment.


Housing for Elderly People, CMHC, Canada

Questions and comments

Q:   I would like to find out whether access is taken as a high priority at schools of architecture. I think that is the starting point. If you are trained from your first year at university in architecture, then it will not be a problem, as you could be out there in the industry implementing what you learned at school. Is somebody out there teaching architects access issues?

Sven Thiberg:   As professor at the School of Architecture in Stockholm, travelling around to many different schools of architecture, I think I know a little about this question and can give you some answers. I do not think disability questions are high priority questions at schools of architecture. There are courses or seminars in all schools. Sometimes, as in our school, it is just for a few days and some discussion, in other schools there is more. In Torino, Italy there is a very extensive course in this, others offer a moderate course. But I do not think this is the problem, the problem is that disability issues are not integrated in projects. Often teachers feel it is enough just to have a seminar but there is no follow up, I know this from my own school.

My colleagues often omit the discussion of barrier-free design and often do not criticize student projects from this point of view. I think it is a question of integration, as has been mentioned here, to have this in the back of the brain as a natural inclination of the architect to make the environment accessible - not something you add on. I know this is a very big responsibility of architects and schools of architecture. The problem is to reach into them and to get them to understand their responsibility.

When you were speaking about awards and such, I was thinking about the UIA Congress, the International Union of Architects, which will have its next congress in Chicago in 1993. That could be an opportunity to raise these questions. I will be there as an activist in the peace movement, as chairman of ArcPeace, which is part of the international peace movement. We will have seminars on the responsibility of architects to build confidence-building issues through the world. I think this issue of accessibility is on the same level. So maybe that could be an idea for us to approach through CIB and the Architect Union, of which most architects here are members, to try to get it on the agenda for the International Union of Architects Congress.

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