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September 1999

2000 Olympic Games paves way for accessibility

By Ann Gibson and Robyn Thompson,
Occupational Therapists.
Independent Living Centre NSW, Australia.

Ann Gibson and Robyn Thompson conducting a site visit during the construction of Stadium Australia.

Access consultancy

Accessing public venues has often proved a difficult exercise for people with a disability.  Steps, uneven ground, steep inclines, poor signage, and inaccessible facilities have prevented people with a disability from participating in many day to day activities within a community setting.  However, the NSW Government is leading the way by addressing this form of discrimination through the Olympic Games building program.

Occupational therapists in the role of access consultants have a major part to play in influencing the design and construction of buildings.  The Independent Living Centre NSW’s Access Consultancy has been working in conjunction with the architects and builders of some Olympic Games venues to improve accessibility.  It is hoped that the Olympic Games building program will be the catalyst for more architects and builders to incorporate similar design features into all future buildings.

The NSW Government has utilised the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sydney to endorse the right of all people to access public facilities. The government’s Olympic Co-ordination Authority has required architects, designers and builders to ensure equitable access to all buildings, venues and facilities for people with a disability, and has appointed its own Access Committee.

The Independent Living Centre NSW’s access consultants have been providing specialist advice on several sporting venues.  These include, Stadium Australia, and centres for shooting, tennis, cycling, sailing and hockey.  Designers have incorporated a range of features to assist both athletes and spectators who experience difficulties with mobility, vision, hearing, and wheelchair access.

One development has been the provision of wheelchair seating spaces in a range of locations, and provides comparable sightlines to the arena.  A comparable sightline allows the person in a wheelchair to see past an individual who stands up in the space in front.

Enhanced amenity seats in the larger venues incorporate armrests, and increased space for people using walking aids or wearing prosthetics.  The extra space can also accommodate a guide dog or companion dog.

A significant addition to unisex toilet facilities is the inclusion of wheelchair accessible baby change tables. The athletes’ toilet and change facilities have extra wide doorway clearances to allow for the cambered wheels of sports wheelchairs.

A hearing augmentation system assists people who are hearing impaired.  Ticket booths, reception and information desks, meeting rooms and at least 15% of spectator seating will be covered by the installation of this system.  Some venues will offer FM hearing systems allowing people to sit in any seat of their choice and access hearing augmentation.

Colour contrasts, tactile ground surface indicators and tactual signage will assist the orientation and safety of people who are visually impaired. Clear signs, accompanied by internationally recognised symbols, will also assist people with sensory impairments, people with intellectual disabilities and people from a non-English speaking background.

One of the many issues covered in negotiations with architects is compliance with relevant legislation.  Building designers and owners generally comply with criteria set in the Australian Standards and the Building Code of Australia. However, they do not always meet the minimum requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Meeting the requirements of this Act has two major implications for building designers and owners.  The extra space requirements to improve equitable access impinge on the overall design of the building, and, there are additional costs for the extra facilities needed for full accessibility.

Through the Olympic Co-ordination Authority, the NSW government is providing a consistent level of excellent building design which will allow independent access throughout the Homebush Bay site, and other sporting venues within the Olympic and Paralympic programs.  We look to the Olympic Games event as a catalyst for further change in community facilities and personal attitudes to enable people with a disability to enjoy community events.

For more information on the Independent Living Centre NSW’s Access Consultancy, contact Trish Lapsley or Ann Gibson by phone on 61-2-98082233 or email: 


Advisory Notes on Access to Premises HREOC (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) June ’97/March ’98

Access Guidelines, Olympic Co-ordination Authority 2nd Edition - March 1998

AS 1428 Design for access and mobility
Part 1: General requirements for access - Buildings
Part 2: Enhanced and additional requirements - Buildings and facilities
Part 4: Tactile ground surface indicators for the orientation of people with vision impairment

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