Skip navigation links Sitemap | About us | FAQs

UN Programme on Disability   Working for full participation and equality
Theme: Accessibility :
Accessibility for the Disabled - A Design Manual for a Barrier Free Environment
previousPrevious : Nextnext



Lack of special provisions for the disabled regarding accessible buildings and facilities.


To design, to the extent possible, public buildings accessible to all.


3.1 General

*Buildings that have to comply with accessibility requirements for the disabled include all public buildings, governmental facilities and institutions, office buildings, residential buildings, commercial buildings, health facilities, educational institutions restaurants, recreational facilities, sports facilities, religious buildings and all other building types normally used by the general public.

*Except as specified below, only buildings for private use, such as private residences, clubs, offices or studios, etc. need not comply with requirements for accessibility for the disabled.

*For accessible buildings, at least one entrance per facility should be accessible to a wheelchair user. For new buildings, the accessible entrance(s) should be the main entrance(s) intended for use by the general public.

*Wherever waiting areas, coffee shops, display areas, merchandising departments, service areas, ticket counters, refreshment stands, etc. are provided for public use, these facilities should be accessible to disabled people, mainly to wheelchair users.

*All work areas in which physically disabled persons may be employed should be accessible.

*In any public rest room, at least one unisex compartment should be accessible to a wheelchair user.

3.2 Residential buildings

*Private residences may be left inaccessible to a wheelchair user. However, it is desirable to consider a minimum of accessibility requirements so as to accommodate disabled guests.

*In new apartment buildings constructed for rent or sale, provisions for disabled persons should be considered. The number of wheelchair housing units should be provided at a rate of one unit for a typical population of 1000. (1)

3.3 Office buildings

*New office buildings should be as accessible as possible so as to accomodate all persons and not hinder employment of disabled persons.

*New low-rise office blocks with no elevators need not be accessible to a wheelchair user. Office space at ground level, if any, should be accessible.

*For small office buildings where the floor area limits the provision of accessible rest rooms on each floor, one accessible rest room could be provided to serve the entire building. The accessible rest room should be located adjacent to an accessible elevator.

*Where an office building is subdivided among various tenants, wheelchair rest rooms should be provided on each floor.

3.4 Commercial uses

*Accessibility requirements for wheelchair users should be applied to all new large speciality shops having a sales area of 100 m or more.(2) In small shops, provisions for wheelchair users should be applied wherever possible. *In large multi-storey department stores and supermarkets, accessible elevators should be installed to provide access to lower and/or upper levels for the benefit of wheelchair users and people with mobility problems.

*Merchandise display areas in accessible shops should be as conveniently located as possible to a wheelchair user. Angled mirrors can be placed above high shelves for visibility.

* In accessible clothes shops, at least one changing room should allow for a full 360 turn of a wheelchair.

3.5 Assembly halls

*Under this category fall movie-theaters, lecture halls, spectator seating in sports centres, and other assembly halls with fixed seating.

*The number of spaces designated for wheelchair users in a seating area can be estimated according to the following table:

Number of seats in a seating area Number of required spaces for wheelchair users
up to 600 6  i.e. 1/100
up to 1000 6 + 2
over 1000 8+1 for each additional increment of 1000 seats

*Some seats with removable or flip-up armrests should be provided at row ends to accommodate a wheelchair user or a person with limited ambulatory mobility.

* A level floor area for wheelchair users should be placed at row ends and should be scattered on different levels so as to have a variety of seating and viewing locations (fig. 1).

3.7 Cafeterias and restaurants

*New restaurants or parts of new restaurants and eating spaces should be as accessible as possible to a wheelchair user.

*In self-service restaurants tray slides and counters should be mounted approximatly 0.90 m from the floor. Food shelves should be mounted at a maximum height of 1.20 m (fig. 2).

*Cantilevered tables or tables with straight legs at each corner are preferable to central pedestals that might restrict wheelchair access.

*Stools and high tables are not suitable for wheelchair users. Low tables should be provided as well.

3.8 Hotels

*At least one room per new hotel or motel should be accessible to a wheelchair user. Bathrooms connected to these rooms have to be fully equipped. The layout should allow a lateral transfer to the toilet seat.

*Rooms designated for wheelchair users should, where possible, be placed at ground level so as to have a direct means of escape in case of fire.

3.9 Hospitals and health facilities

*All entrances should be accessible to a wheelchair user. * All rooms should be accessible for the benefit of patients, disabled visitors and disabled staff members.

*All clinics on all floors should be accessible.

*All patients' rest rooms should be accessible to wheelchair user.

*All administrative departments should be accessible to staff members confined to wheelchairs.

3.10 Educational buildings

*All teaching, administrative and common areas should be accessible to a wheelchair user.

*Suitable arrangements should be made for stepped lecture halls or auditoriums (see table above).

*At least one accessible unisex rest room should be provided in each building other than student dormitories and residential accommodations.

*All recreational facilities should be usable by disabled people, to the extent possible.

*Colleges for physical education, police or military training and other activities requiring full physical abilities need not be accessible to disabled people. However, provisions should be made for disabled administrative staff members.

3.11 Libraries

*All open book stacks should be accessible.

*All library facilities and equipment should be accessible.

*A special room should be provided for sightless and for hearing-impaired people who need assistance while reading.

3.12 Sports buildings

* Sports halls should be as accessible as possible to a wheelchair user.

* At least one shower room, one rest room and one changing room per facility should be accessible to a wheelchair user.

*Spectators' seating areas should be provided for wheelchair users as specified (see table above).

3.13 Public transit buildings

* All public areas used by passengers such as banks, shops, waiting areas, customs areas baggage halls, booking halls, waiting areas, inquiry offices, etc. should be accessible to a wheelchair user, wherever possible.

* In bus, air and sea terminals, adjoining spaces next to seating facilities should be provided for wheelchair users.

3.14 Industrial buildings

* Arrangements for disabled employees are directly related to the type of work they perform. Arrangements for disabled people need not be considered in heavy manufacturing factories.

* Arrangements for all disabled people should be incorporated into the design of new light manufacturing factories where disabled people may be employed.


* The highest degree of accessibility to all people should be provided to the extent possible in accordance with the requirements mentioned above.

* For historic buildings, impossible to adapt to suit the requirements of disabled people without affecting the historical character, the challenge is to find alternative solutions or other innovative methods that do not conflict with preservation requirements. However, under all circumstances the character of a historical building should be preserved. Any modification that seriously harms its character, material, features or spaces is prohibited.


(1) This figure is just a preliminary estimation based on a summary of suggested housing provisions by Selwyn Goldsmith in Designing for the Disabled (p .418). It is up to every local authority to determine the exact number and the distribution of housing accommodations for disabled people, mainly those confined to a wheelchair, based on the needs of individual districts.

(2) This figure is also a preliminary estimation based on the same source.

Level floor area for wheelchairs in row ends in a variety of seating locations.
Fig. 1


Self-service restaurants - tray slides and counters at 0.90 m, and food shelves at max. 1.20 m.
Fig. 2


previousPrevious : Nextnext

Home | Sitemap | About us | News | FAQs | Contact us

United Nations, 2003-04
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
Division for Social Policy and Development