Facilities for Disabled People

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  • the apartheid system was no longer applicable,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.


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  1. Im working on a building which needs to comply with Part S and as such I have designed the 2 fire escapes accordingly, my question is that if i add an additional stair which is a communicating stair only does this still have to comply with Part S or can it simply comply with part M as the requirements for Part S have already been fulfilled? (As per Part T, I only require 2 stairs, the 3rd is additional)

  2. If the building at your place of work does not comply with laws regarding access for the disabled employee, which regulatory body so you lay your complaint with so that inspectors can come and verify your complaint?

  3. Sheila Mitchell

    Are there any specific national building regulations relating to retirement villages?

    • Hi Sheila, Not “Retirement villages” specifically but the regulations do address various aspects of building when it comes to the eldery and disabled etc.

  4. Anastasia Karagiannidis

    My mother lives in a 5 storey building. Up until the middle of last year the one entrance to the building was the only suitable access to the building for disabled people. Since then it has been locked with a chain and a lock for “security” reasons. All other access into the building has stairs which makes it very difficult for a disabled person to negotiate.
    My mother walks with a stroller and is finding it frustrating to get in and out of the building. She’s also recently had a hip replacement which because of her age has taken a while to heal.
    I have asked that she be given the key to the entrance that allows for easy access and that has been denied.

    Is there anything I can do to help my mother?

    • That sounds hugely unreasonable to me. I would check with your local authority to see what the approved plans state in terms of access for disabled persons. While the “new” regulations may not apply, those in place when the plans were passed certainly will apply now. And if they are locking an access point, for whatever reasons, they are not complying with the law.

  5. Hi Penny,

    I’m a quantity surveying student and I am doing an assignment on the legislation for disabled people with regards to the costs involved. Do you have any information on the costs and benefits or suggestions as to where I could find that information, or any relative information?


    • Nicki, Part S of SANS 10400 deals with facilities for disabled persons. This will tell you what is required – you can access the full part from an SABS library. It is more than benefits – i.e. this is what is required. The regulations are a lot more strict than they used to be. In terms of costs, I have no idea. Perhaps you could talk to architects or builders – or perhaps the Master Builders Association.

  6. In our town there is a two storey building with three restaurants on the top floor but there is only a stair case and no lift. Many of the people who eat at these resturants are elderly and some are disabled or semi disabled., with the result it is very difficult to get them up the stairs and as a result the eateries loose trade. My son is disabled and I really struggle to get him up and down the sairs at this centre but the one restuarant is his favorite. I have heard of promises being made by central management to install a lft but so far nothing has been done. What can we as the public and also the owners of the different business on the second floor do to get someones attention and install a lft.

    • Patricia I’m really not sure. Part S of SANS 10400, Facilities for persons with disabilities, is the correct section of the National Building Regulations to look at – and the restaurant owners have more responsibilities than just lifts. The law (National Building Regulations and Building Standards Act) states that “Facilities that accommodate persons with disabilities shall be provided in any building except the following:
      (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.”
      The classifications referred to in (a) above are High risk commercial service (B1), Moderate risk commercial service (B2), Plant room (D4), Dwelling house (H4), High risk storage (J1), Moderate risk storage (J2). I assume a restaurant would either be a large or small shop – displaying and offering merchandise (F1 and F2), or Hospitality (H5).
      In terms of (b) this refers to H1 = hotel.
      And in terms of (c) H3 = domestic residence.
      So that means they are OBLIGED to provide certain facilities in terms of the law.
      These are the first five listed in the LAW (not the deemed to satisfy regs):
      “S2 Facilities to be Provided
      (1) In any building contemplated in regulation S1 requiring facilities for persons with disabilities:
      (a) persons with disabilities shall be able to safely enter the building, use all the facilities subject to the provisions of subregulation (3) within it and leave it;
      (b) there shall be a means of access suitable for use by persons with disabilities, from the main and ancillary approaches of the building to the ground storey; via the main entrance, and any secondary entrance;
      (c) there shall be a means of egress suitable for use by persons with disabilities from any point in a building to a place of safety in the event of an emergency;
      (d) any lift installation that is provided shall be capable of serving the needs of persons with disabilities who are likely to be using the building;”

      So the way I read it they are breaking the law – pure and simple.

      In addition, Part S refers to other legislation including the Constitution (e.g. The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.) & The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act which addresses the wider aspect within which sites, complexes and buildings should be made usable by persons with disabilities.
      Section 9 of the second Act above states:
      “Section 9 states that
      no person may unfairly discriminate against any person on the ground of disability, including ––
      (a) denying or removing from any person who has a disability, any supporting or enabling facility necessary for their functioning in society;
      (b) contravening the code of practice or regulations of the South African Bureau of Standards that govern environmental accessibility;
      (c) failing to eliminate obstacles that unfairly limit or restrict persons with disabilities from enjoying equal opportunities or failing to take steps to reasonably accommodate the needs of such persons.”
      I hope that helps you! Just bear in mind that there may be an argument that the restaurants may have been established prior to 2011 when this part of SANS 10400 changed.

  7. What are the requirements for parking in a retirement village which up until now has had no physically disabled residents? We now have a new resident who is physically disabled and needs handicapped carport facilities to get in and out of her car. Surely she should have realised we did not have the facilities to cater for disabled parking in a carport when she bought into our complex, and now expects another resident to give up a portion of their parking area to facilitate her additional space requirements.

    • Malcolm, Any retirement village that accepts physically disabled residents is obliged to fulfill all the requirements of Part S of SANS 10400, Facilities for disabled persons. This includes parking that meets the specifications of Part S. Surely the establishment must have a policy that ascertains whether residents have special needs?

      • It is not a case of accepting disabled residents it’s a case of a disabled person buying into our complex. In terms of the Constitution we cannot stop anybody from buying into our complex. The seller does not care as long as he gets the best price available. Now we have to inconvenience other residents to accomodate someone who should have been made aware that a shortage of parking facilities was going to be problem. Obviously this situation is going to cause ill feeling with at least two other affected residents. Fortunately it was an open carport that was involved. What would happen if it was a garage? Would we be obliged to knock down two garages to satisfy one disabled person’s requirements? BTW our complex is 25 years old and this is the first time we have had this problem. From what I can ascertain is not normal for private complexes in our area to offer would be residents with handicapped parking.

        • Malcolm I am not a lawyer and I am also not here to argue the facts with you. But my personal opinion is that if you sell to a disabled person then you need to be compliant with the relevant regulations – finished and klaar.
          And if my opinion matters at all, there are a whole lot of other things you need to be compliant with – it’s a can of worms I’m afraid. You probably can, quite legally, state that disabled persons may not buy into the complex unless they take care of upgrades themselves. But I’m guessing.

  8. Colin Rothschild

    What are the regulations for disabled in a corporate gym. WC, changing & shower.

    • Colin, there is some information here about toilet facilities. There are more detailed tables in the regs.
      Here are some excerpts from Part S of SANS 10400, Facilities for Disabled Persons:
      4.12 Toilet facilities…[which includes showers etc]
      4.12.1 In any building where facilities for persons with disabilities are required in terms of Regulation S1 (see annex A), 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.
      b) refers to hotels – H1
      c) In any building other than buildings of occupancy class H1, where in terms of SANS 10400-P, a toilet is required, not fewer than one toilet accessible to persons with disabilities shall be provided within every group of toilets provided.
      d) Persons with disabilities shall not be required to travel further than persons without disabilities to get to a toilet that is accessible to them (see annex B).
      e) Persons with disabilities shall not be required to travel a distance of more than 45 m on the same floor, or 25 m where horizontal and vertical distances are combined, in order to reach a toilet accessible to them, regardless of the number of toilets available to persons without disabilities.
      4.12.2 In a wheelchair-accessible toilet,
      a) the door of the compartment that contains the toilet facilities shall open outwards unless a 1,2 m diameter area that is clear of all fittings, fixtures and the line of the door swing is provided. It shall be fitted with a grab rail on the inside and an easy-to-use locking device. The door leaf shall be openable from the outside by the use of a suitable device in the case of an emergency, and such leaf shall be fitted with a suitable means of indicating whether the compartment is occupied;
      b) the minimum finished wall-to-wall dimensions of the compartment shall be not less than 1,8 m × 1,8 m;
      c) distance of not less than 450mm and not more than 500mm shall be provided between the centre line of the toilet and the nearer side wall of such compartment, and suitable grab rails shall be fixed to such side wall and the rear wall;
      d) the distance from the front edge of the toilet to the rear wall of such compartment shall be not less than 690 mm;
      e) the top surface of the seat of the toilet shall be not less than 480 mm and not more than 500 mm above the floor level;
      f) unless the toilet is provided with a special back rest, the lid and seat thereof, when raised to the upright position, shall remain in such position;
      g) sanitary fixtures and fittings, such as the soap dispenser, hand drier, mirror, coat hooks and toilet paper holder shall be easy to use and easily accessible to any person in a wheelchair. Hand- operated metering faucets shall remain open for a minimum of 10 s;
      h) the toilet flushing control shall be positioned on the outer side, on top of or behind the toilet, operable from the transfer space and shall be easy to use;
      i) within any such compartment, the washbasin shall
      1) be mounted without legs or pedestal, and the height from the floor to the top edge of such basin shall be not more than 820 mm, and
      2) have a vertical clearance of 650 mm from under the basin to the floor, measured at a point not less than 160 mm from the front of and under the basin.
      j) either a vanity slab or shelf shall be fitted in such compartment, level with the top of the washbasin, with a clear height beneath it of 750 mm;
      k) water supply to such a wash basin shall be by way of a single lever mixer unit with a lever handle at least 100 mm long within reach of any person sitting on the toilet;
      l) grab rail assemblies shall be manufactured and installed so as to meet the purpose for which they are intended. The installation shall be sufficiently sturdy to withstand the loads imposed on them;
      m) grab rails suitable for use by persons with disabilities shall be provided at the side and back of the toilet. The tube of any grab rail shall have an outside diameter between 32 mm and 38 mm. The back and side grab rail may be an integral unit;��
      n) In addition to the grab rails indicated in(m), a hinged support arm may be added to the transfer side of the toilet, at 300 mm from the centre of the toilet
      o) doors into accessible toilets shall have a clear opening of 900 mm minimum.
      NOTE It is recommended that the maximum temperature of water discharging from any hot water outlet in any building, should not exceed 45 °C. This is of particular importance in ablutions accessible by persons with disabilities.
      4.12.3 Any bath or shower cubicle provided for the use of persons with disabilities shall be so designed that a wheelchair user should be able to roll into such cubicle without being obstructed by a kerb or change of level.
      4.12.4 Floor surfaces to any bath or shower cubicle provided for the use of persons with disabilities shall have a firm and slip-resistant surface under wet and dry conditions.
      NOTE Annex D provides further guidance on the design and layout of toilet facilities.

    • Colin I answered this query – it should appear above.

  9. Thanks for the article. I am a student of facility management in Malawi. Though this is for South Africa, it has indeed helped me understand as an upcoming facility planner and manager, to understand the legislation for the disabled people.

  10. Robb Edgecomb

    l refer to Benoni Lakeside Mall. Altough they have parking, no one has access to the as one has to register with some private person in order to get a permit to park there. All spaces stand empty and we the disabled can not park there.

  11. i have a question what are the laws for paraplegic parking? can anyone with a sore foot park in this bay?
    especially at a hospital.. and persons with a baby cos the door is to far??? i get this all the time at a hospital in pretoria can you mail me the law so i can go and show it to them..

    • Wilma this is sometimes covered by local bylaws and sometimes just by management policy. It’s a huge problem and one that many shopping centres ignore because it is so difficult to enforce. All you can do is go and talk to management and ask them to police the parking so that the people it is intended for can use it. I think the most common policy is for discs to be issued, so that parking attendants can see whether people can legitimately park there. But even so this has problems since it doesn’t specify the driver of that particular car.

  12. Subject:
    Bathroom regulations

    Hi I have an elderly mother who is having trouble getting out of the
    bath. Can a pully mechanism be built for her. They stay in a flat with
    concrete roof. Can i have a pully system, with a winch
    (landrover)installed for her. What are the regulations pertaining to
    this. Regards Ingrid

    • Ingrid there is nothing in the Building Regulations that relate to pulleys. Whatever you provide for her needs to be safe, so have it installed by a professional.

  13. What should the size of a disability parking bay be?

    • Rosemary, parking bays are not specified in the NBR. This would normally be covered by local bylaws and might vary according to where they are located.

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