May 042012

The Importance of Facilities for
Disabled People in our Buildings-Part S


head and shoulders pic of Dr Ron Watermeyer

Dr Ron Watermeyer

The National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act was amended and published by the Department of Trade and Industry in May 2008. Some parts of the Act were affected more than others; some changed very little. Part S, which deals with facilities for disabled people (or persons) is one section that had changed radically. In fact, according to Ron Watermeyer, a civil engineer, chairperson of Standards South Africa’s Technical Committee for Construction Standards and a member of the secretariat of the Inter-ministerial Task Team for Construction Industry Development (amongst other things), it is one of 12 parts that has been “fundamentally rewritten”. The reason, of course lies in the motivation for changing the National Building Regulations in the first place. Dr Watermeyer was tasked with rewriting the SABS document, now referred to as SANS 10400 (rather than the original SABS 0400), which contains “deemed-to-satisfy” rules. And according to him, the motivation was based on several factors. By 2008, when the Act was last amended, there had been numerous changes to South African society, and these directly affected the building industry. More specifically, he said:

  • the apartheid system was no longer applicable,
  • local authorities throughout the country had been completely restructured,
  • the National Home Builders Registration Council had been formed,
  • South Africa’s population had more than doubled,
  • building control and systems had become increasingly complex,
  • new and innovative construction systems had been introduced.

If you’ve ever read Section 24 of the Bill of Rights in the South African Constitution, you will know that: “everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well-being.” Since the buildings in which we live are an integral part of our environment, the implication is that constitutionally they MUST be safe. So the primary motivation regarding changes to the Act was to make them safer than ever before. And of course this meant that it was imperative that anything relating to disabled persons, and their facilities, had to be upgraded.

What the Act Says in Terms of Facilities to be Provided for Disabled People

The essential requirements of the National Building Regulations (in terms of facilities for disabled people or persons) are that:

1. People with disabilities should be able to safely enter the building and be able to safely use all the facilities within it – specifically toilets.

2. There must be a means of access that is suitable for people with disabilities to use. In addition, access must be available from various approaches of the building via the main entrance and any secondary entrances, and should lead to the ground floor.

3. There must be a means of egress (a point of departure) that is suitable for people with disabilities to use in the event of any sort of emergency. This relates to any sort of emergency, but in addition, a further clause states that departure routes (or egress) must also be designed in accordance with Part T of the regulations, namely the section that relates to Fire Protection.

4. Lifts in buildings must be able to serve the needs of disabled people. This includes ensuring that any commonly used “path of travel” MUST be free of any sort of obstacles that would limit, restrict or endanger people with disabilities who use that route. There must also be absolutely no obstacles that will prevent people with disabilities from accessing facilities within the building. The regulations refer specifically to people with impaired vision, but clearly they also relate to people in wheelchairs, or people who have trouble walking freely.

5. Buildings that incorporate halls or auditoriums for public use are obliged to ensure that a reasonable percentage of space is available for people in wheelchairs or other “assistive devices”.

In addition to these clauses, the National Building Regulations also state that where there is parking available for more than 50 motor vehicles, there must  be parking facilities that accommodate disabled persons. There is also an obligation to ensure that persons with disabilities are provided with a suitable means of access from the parking area to the ground floor – or storey – of the building.

Of course this also means that the “deemed-to-satisfy” rules have changed.

According to this section of SANS 10400, The application of the National Building Regulations Part S: Facilities for persons with disabilities, “Establishes requirements for external and internal circulation routes, including doors and doorways, ramps, stairways, handrails, lifts, toilet facilities, auditoriums and halls, obstructions in the path of travel, parking and indication of facilities.”

Get your copy from the SABS online store or directly from them in Pretoria (head office), Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth or East London. The ISBN number is 978-0-626-25219-9, and it sells for R406.98 incl. VAT.


Fire Protection

  66 Responses to “Facilities for Disabled People”

Comments (66)
  1. Subject:
    existing buildings
    Do existing buildings need to be retrofitted to comply with the SANS10400-s (people with disabilities) – I know that when some of the regulations change (eg fire regs) an existing building may have to be modified to bring it into compliance.
    Thanks for the great site!

    • Anne retrofitting is not required unless there is a major renovation or extension to the building.

      • I am concerned that existing buildings do not have to make provisions for disabled! With the exception of historical monuments, how can government buildings, retail stores and residential apartment blocks be allowed to exclude people with disabilities?

        • Joyce it is not so much that they don’t have to make provision for disabled people, it is rather that they do not have to be retrofitted to comply with the new regulations. If you download the old regulations – SABS 0400-1990 (this is a link for you) – you will see what the regulations previously required. If you find any buildings including government buildings, retail stores and residential apartment blocks that do not comply with these then they are in contravention of the law.

  2. Hi Penny

    Is it acceptable for a 9 storey building to only have excalators as the means of access to other floors? There are lifts but they only service two floors. Physical disabled people can apply for a card to allow the lifts to stop on every floor. This is however not available to people with vertigo, acrophobia, and related phobias. The escalators are also ‘open’ in that there is a wide open space all around the escalators with a clear view down to the ground floor and no visual points for people with acrophobia or vertigo to use to try and counteract the condition. Normal stairs is not available as an option. The emergency stairs is obviously not available as it is restricted for use during an emergency. Staff with problems other than being in a wheelchair or being blind must first visit specialists/therapists/etc and acquire a recommendation from them before consideration will be given to allow these staff members a card to also access all floors via the lifts. It just doenst seem right to only give empoloyees / occupants only one option to access different floors and that option being one that is not acceptable to all due to medical conditions (excl wheelchair bound or blind).

    Any clarification on how the act sees this will be highly appreciated

    • Hi Adri,
      The National Building Regulations “Part S: Facilities for persons with disabilities” deals mainly with physical disabilities as you say, it does not address psychological disabilities (however real these may be). The local authority has the mandate to implement and enforce the Regulations or the By-laws for it’s region. You should address the problem to the building inspector in your area. All the municipal contact numbers are on this page here: municipality-contact

  3. I would like to know the space required by a person with disability using a wheel chair in a classroom

    • Hi Shaku,
      The National Building Regulations regarding People with Disabilities deals with the structure of buildings and the elements such as access, stairs, ramps etc. I do have sympathy with the way many classrooms in South Africa are overcrowded. But I think it is down to the Headmaster and teachers to arrange the desks in the classrooms as they see fit. Maybe you can have a discussion with them and ask if they can accommodate you.

  4. Hi Penny,
    Do these regulations cover the the legal requirements of ramps in shopping malls. That is, the steepness or angle of ramps inside shopping malls.
    Case in point. The ramps in the East Rand Mall to me are extreemly steep and slippery. I barely make it to the top of these ramps. Going down them is a nightmare. One cannot slow down without burning your hands on the wheels of the chair. You can pull the breaks and the wheel chair just slides and has nearly over turned a couple of times. There are no hand rails on these ramps nor on stairs next to the ramps.
    There is just a steel round bar near the floor, which management says, is there to protect the tiles on the side walls from shopping trolly’s damaging the tiles.
    Also the side walls of these ramps range from hip height to knee height which i believe is also very unsafe.
    My mother recently slipped on one of these ramps, and got her foot caught under the bar near the floor, fell backwards and snapped her ankle in two places.
    What are the specific rules/law regarding these type of ramps. The mall says, the tiles on the ramps are smaller and therefore more grout and the claim that makes them , “non slip “.
    Can you please comment or direct me to a site where it states what the requirements are for these ramps.

    Many Thanks
    Stephen Williamson.

    • Yes Stephen, Part S does cover ramps in shopping malls. It also talks about requirements for ramps used by wheelchairs. You might want to check the whole standard – you can buy it online from the SABS web store, or access it at an SABS library. I can though give you some information.
      Part S of SANS 10400 states that, “Ramps might be required for use by persons without disabilities, for example, persons pushing trolleys who require ramps as an alternative to stepped access” and that “Ramps should only be provided where level access cannot be achieved. Where a ramp is provided, stepped access should normally accompany it for persons with ambulant disabilities who find ramps difficult to use”.
      There are also very clear guidelines in terms of steepness. Here are some of the guidelines:
      1. They should have “a gradient, measured along the centre line, that is not steeper than 1:12”
      2. The surface should be “clear” and “trafficable”, and it should bot be less than 1,100 m wide
      3. The surface itself must be be stable, firm and slip resistant (see also SANS 784) in both wet and dry conditions.
      4. There should be “a landing at the top and bottom of each ramp of not less than 1,2 m in length (clear of any door swing) and of width not less than that of the ramp”.
      5. There are additional requirements in terms of ramp requirements between landings. e.g.a relatively gradual gradient of 1:20 can have a maximum vertical rise of 750 mm and the ramp length between landings can be up to 15 m, while a steeper 1:12 gradient ramp cannot be more than six metres and the maximum vertical rise is 500 mm.
      6. There must be a handrail on both sides of the ramp, or where the width is greater than 2,4m, a central handrail in accordance with the requirements of 4.10 where the gradient is steeper than 1:15.
      7. If ramps in the same direction are used for a vertical rise of more than 600 mm, they must be staggered by the width of the ramp, to prevent a long straight line of ramps.
      8. The camber or banking on walkways and ramps shall not exceed 1:50.
      In terms of handrails, there are a number of guidelines, including:
      1. The height to the top of a handrail from the nosing of the tread of the stairs or from the surfaces of a ramp shall be in the range 900 mm to 1 000 mm and shall remain consistent along the length.
      2. They should be securely fixed and rigid.
      3. The clear width between a handrail and an adjacent wall shall be at least 60 mm and handrails should extend 300mm horizontally beyond the top and bottom of the ramp or stairway, and return to the supporting structure, or finished with a positive return.
      4. The need to be continuous between landings where this does not create a hazard.
      There is a drawing that shows walkway, ramp, landing and where the handrail needs to be.
      This part states: “All steps, stairs and ramps should be fitted with handrails on both sides to reduce the risk of falling.” & “Where a change in level of more than 600 mm occurs, a handrail shall also be provided.”
      But have a look at a recent response from Janek to Louis in the section on Stairways.
      I hope this helps.

      • Thank you very much for the info. This will help us a lot in our case. More research of cource to be done. Thanks for the speedy answer.


  5. Hello Penny,

    I don’t have very clear which is the actual regulation to accesibility for disabled people.
    Only the SANS 10400? no longer the SABS 0400?
    I am really confused, for what I really appreciate your clarification about the legislation and standards.
    Thank you for your advice.


    • Paula, SANS 10400 is the current regulation. SABS 0400-1990 was the old regulation. The legislation was updated in 2008 – which you will see if you read the information given elsewhere on this site. To add to your confusion, Part S – which is the section you are referring to, was actually only published in 2011.
      In most instances SABS regs had a “1” added to them (0400 therefore becomes 10400) and they all became SANS – i.e. South African National Standards. But the 1990 version of the so-called “deemed to satisfy” rules written by the SABS have been majorly updated.
      In the 1990 document, this section was all of five pages – more than one being the actual legislation. It is now 51 pages, though this includes the legislation, contents, definitions and suchlike. The regulations themselves are around 40 pages with some containing just drawings – e.g. of toilets, to show how they must comply.
      Let me know if I can help further.

  6. It’s not clear to me in terms of the National Building Regulations whether or not a 40 year old building (7 floors) must be adpated and retro -fitted for people with disabilities. The costings we’ve had are indeed prohibitive, with space being the biggest problem, and as a Section 21 company ourselves would find it very difficult if not impossible to carry out these changes. Can you advise?

    • Joan buildings do not have to be retro-fitted. If you were adding on or extending, the extension would need to comply with the new National Building Regulations. And in the event of an extension, the local authority may make certain demands in terms of things that need to be changed.
      Part A of SNAS 10400 says:
      “Where an application is made to make an alteration or addition to any building, approval for the erection of which was granted before the date of commencement of the Act ––
      (a) such alteration shall comply with the requirements of the Act, but consequent changes to any other part of the building which would be necessary in order to make such other part comply with the requirements of the Act shall not be required unless in the opinion of the local authority such consequent changes are necessary to ensure the health or safety of persons using the building in the altered form;
      (b) such addition shall comply with the requirements of the Act, but no changes to the original building shall be required unless the addition ––
      (i) will affect the structural strength or stability of the original building;
      (ii) will render any existing escape route from the original building less effective; or
      (iii) will affect the health of persons using the original building.”
      So you can breathe again. 😉
      Having said this, Part S which deal with Facilities for Disabled Persons states that “The provisions for facilities for persons with disabilities contained in the National Building Regulations provide minimum requirements only and do not necessarily comply with the provisions of other legislative requirements.”
      “Every effort should be made to provide accessible facilities in as many buildings as possible, notwithstanding the fact that it might not always be a requirement of the National Building Regulations. The potential to adapt buildings after construction might be prohibitive in terms of cost, and therefore any decision made to include an inaccessible area of a site or building or facility at the design stage, when such works are feasible, should not be taken lightly. A factor to be considered is that all facilities, if designed correctly, can also provide safe, comfortable and convenient use to persons without disabilities.”

  7. Hi Penny,

    Our office is a two floor building. Provisions have been made for wheelchair access to the dround floor. Two entrances bothe with ramps, two disabled parking bays, two unisex toilets for disabled (with the correct facilities).

    My question is: Does the national building regulation state that all staff working in a building must have access to all floors in a multi level Building?

    Your assistance is appreciated.

    Kind regards

    • Hi Kreton,
      Each building has to be looked at individually in terms of getting Building approval for “Facilities for Persons with Disabilities”. The SANS 10400 Part-S Annex B states that: “Every effort should be made to provide accessible facilities in as many buildings as possible, notwithstanding the fact that it might not always be a requirement of the National Building Regulations. The potential to adapt buildings after construction might be prohibitive in terms of cost, and therefore any decision made to include an inaccessible area of a site or building or facility at the design stage, when such works are feasible, should not be taken lightly.”
      You don’t say if the provisions were retro-fitted or not. If the facilities were done when the building was first constructed then the building inspector would not have given his approval for construction/occupation if access to the first floor was seen to be necessary.
      The regulations do not specifically state that disabled staff must have access to all levels of any building only that if they must have access to perform certain critical (not social) duties as far as their job is concerned, then access should be considered. I suggest that you contact your local authority for further guidance.

  8. Hi Penny
    Pls cna you advise me what is the ratio of disabled staff to toilets i.e 1 non gender specific disbled toilets can accomodate xx amount of disabled people.

    • In terms of Part A of SANS 10400, any building where facilities for persons with disabilities are required in terms of Regulation S1 (see annex A)*[see below], there shall be one or more toilets or unisex toilet facilities suitable for use by wheelchair users, provided that
      a) In any building requiring toilet facilities to which part S of the Regulations applies, the first toilet provided shall be a unisex toilet facility, for use by persons with and without disabilities, preferably in accordance with the details shown in annex D.
      * S1 Application
      (1) Facilities that accommodate persons with disabilities shall be provided in any building except the
      (a) any building of which the whole of the ground storey comprises one or more occupancies
      classified in terms of regulation A20 as B1, B2, D4, H4, J1 or J2;
      (b) any building classified as H1 in terms of regulation A20 where such building has less than 25 bedrooms and it can be reasonably proven that it is not possible to include wheelchair access in certain aspects of the design; and
      (c) any storey above ground floor level of a building classified as H3 in terms of regulation A20 and not provided with a lift.

  9. I would really appreciate some help when it comes to the disabled parking laws in SA.
    My husband is in a wheelchair and in 8 years i can honestly say that there has never, not once been a time when we have been to town, and not seen an abled person use a wheelchair parking bay, the most aweful thing is the response form people when we approach them usually something in the line of, oh well, a shrug of the shoulders or so what are you gonna do about it!
    its horrible that people seem to just not care.
    what legally can be done, at that moment? who do you call, what do you do to actually get the people to be fined or clamped or something to make them feel the same inconvinience that we feel?
    PLEASE HELP, its time we made a difference and took some action

    • Stacy if it’s a parking lot of a shopping centre then go straight to the management or security and report them. I have witnessed people reporting this kind of thing and they move pretty fast. It’s a bit more tricky in a public place, unless there are traffic wardens around. If you have a cellphone with a camera, take pix that show the number plate and the place where the car is parked, and then report this to the traffic department. At very least make a note of the registration and time/place where they are parked – and report this. But unless there’s proof, there isn’t much that anyone can do.

      • thank you Penny, that is what we have been doing, it just feels like its not enough as the help and response is always half hearted.
        we went to the police station and asked how to deal with this, as it really is a big deal for so many people we know and they gave us a number to call if we saw anyone parking in the disabled bays. we have called that number so many times, and the reponse is always the same, they dont have a vehicle to send or they cant help unless the people wait for them(as if that would happen)
        management of the shopping centers send someone out to ask them to move but as soon as they are back in the office, someone else comes along and parks there! its maddening.
        i have even started carrying a note pad, and leaving notes on peoples windows, but that doesnt seem to be helping much either. where does the law stand on me chaining peoples wheels, or leaving stickers on their windows??? i just feel like i want to do more, i want to stop people getting away with being so insensitive!

        • Jeepers Stacy I don’t know. Forget the notepad – get some cheap lipstick and use that on the driver’s side of the windscreen! Keep a written record of the dates and times when you phone the cops – and when the shopping centres don’t help. If someone tries to get you into trouble – that’s the evidence you’ll need. I have seen wheels clamped – and I have seen a very angry women in action against an able-bodied person parked in disabled parking without a sticker (authorization). She had the shopping centre security hopping. Also write to your local newspaper – that might help get you some support.

          • I really enjoyed your reply thank you. I will definatly be getting some bright red lipstick. Going to the newspapers sounds like an awesome plan! Thanks penny

  10. Thank you for all the useful information.
    Accidentally get to your site and as a disabled person if gave me information that I will use in future getting to a place most that is not disabled friendly

  11. Hi Penny and others,

    It was very interesting to come accros this blog and read the interpretation given to the regulations and the Deemed to Satisfy (SANS 10400-S) requirements. Which brings me to the reason for writing. I serve on the committee that draft the SANS 10400-S document at the SABS and believe some clarity might be gained from insights into the discussions that take place during the development of these documents.

    On the first query: Mothers with Prams – I agree with Penny that a mother with a pram is not classified as disabled according to all the definitions out there, however, when we included the requirements that the first WC will be an accessible WC, and cubicles added afterwards, it was from the point of view, that every and anyone could use an accessible WC, and not the otherway around. This also made provision for mothers with prams, people with shopping trollies, etc.

    When it comes to parking however, the oposite holds true, parking facilities are dedicated for use by persons with disabilities only, while all other parkings can be used by abled bodied persons.

    On the second query: Lift provisions
    Part S of the NBR and SANS 10400 is silent on the object of lift requirements, it does however address the issues as Penny mention. You have to search quite a bit to find the lift requirements in the SANS 10400 documents, and I believe the only reference to when lifts must be provided can be found under the clause dealing with lift ducts in the Fire portion, Part T. Currently this is seen as a shortcoming in the regulation, but the committee cannot re-write the regulations as published by the minister but only provide requirements to meet the regulations, which was done through the requirements published in Part S. An interesting point to note though, is the requirement of refuge areas at all fire escapes in multi storey buildings. Sadly, this was not well defined either, and is left to the interpretation of the local authorities & relevant fire departments.

    Penny, yes, the building regulations is not applicable retrospectively, but if you make any alterations to a building, you may be required to make the building compliant with the new accessibility requirements. A good idea, is to discuss your project early on with the local council and determine what their requirements will be.

    A huge gap in the regulations as it stands, is the application of these new regulations when it comes to heritage buildings (this include parts S, T and XA which had the most changes).

    There is a new publication that is in the final stages and about to go to press called “Architective,” I wrote the module on Universal Access, which indicate the SANS10400-S requirements, but gives best practice advise on accessible design. The reason I mention this, is that a perception was created that accessible design relates to wheelchair access. This is not the case, accessible design is so much more as it deals with a variety of issues. Also, SANS10400-S, provides the MINIMUM standard that needs to be provided. If you comply with the requirements of SANS10400-S you have definately not provided your client with a good designed building as far as accessibility is concerned, but just the bare minimum cheap and nasty stuff.

    I am more than willing to chat and give feedback if there are any further queries in this regard.

    • Peter thank you so much for your input. I would like to expand on all three elements and will email you in this regard. i.e. I’d like to run a dedicated blog post on each subject – and others if possible.

  12. Does mother’s with prams qualify as part of the disability group in South Africa and be allowed to use disability fascilities (or is it their right?)

    • No mother’s with prams are certainly not disabled! And the building regulations do not cater for mothers with prams. There are certain laws and municipal by-laws though that cover things like parking for moms with prams.
      BTW in terms of parking for people with disabilities, you have to have an official sticker of some sort that verifies you are in fact disabled, or you might find yourself being fined or having your car clamped!

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  14. Does the act also state that all buildings must be fitted with a lift, and what about older buildings?

    • The section of the Act (NBR) that relates to Facilities for Disabled Persons (Part S) states that persons with disabilities need to be able to enter and leave buildings safely, particularly in the event of emergency. It doesn’t state specifically when a lift must be fitted, but states that IF a lift is provided, it must serve the needs of people with disabilities who are likely to use it. Lifts do not have to be fitted in buildings which would not normally be fitted with a lift. But there are additional rules and regulations that relate to commercial buildings, shopping malls etc. Regarding older buildings; I am not aware of legislation that demands retrofitting any facilities or upgrading due to new regulations.

      • Thanks, newly built buildings, that have 2 or 3 stories, must they be fitted with lifts?

        • The law states that “Facilities that accommodate persons with disabilities shall be provided in any building except the following”:
          a) If the whole ground floor houses various occupancies – which are specified eg high risk commercial services or storage, and dwellings. THE RISK FACTOR I SUPPOSE IS BECAUSE PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES WOULDN’T WORK THERE.
          b) Hotels with less than 25 bedrooms where the owners can prove that they can’t incorporate wheelchair access.
          c) Domestic residences with one or more stories above ground that are provided with a lift.I SUPPOSE BECAUSE IF THERE ISN’T A LIFT, THE HOME WOULD NOT BE SUITABLE FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES.
          The legislation (NBR) also specify “facilities to be provided” – but as I said previously, this doesn’t state exactly when and where lifts must be fitted.

      • where caqn i find the rules and regulations regarding commercial buildings, shopping malls

        • You could call the SABS and see whether there are national standards covering this. Plus local authorities probably have their own requirements.
          But why don’t you get hold of the National Council for Persons with Disabilities in South Africa?

 011-452 2774
          There is a link on their website “Policy and legislation”, but it is broken! But I am sure that if you phone them they will point you in the right direction much more quickly than I can.

  15. good-day

    I am a student studying my masters in Architecture. I am currently researching on facilities required for disabled people. Is it possible for me to receive a presentation regarding the facilities for disabled people. i am highly intrested in the regulations required.

    kind regards
    aslam majam

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