The Council for the Built Environment (CBE) hosted a seminar to launch its first Disability Rights Awareness Month (DRAM) campaign, which was running from 3 November to 3 December 2023. The campaign aimed to raise awareness in the built environment and stakeholders, including the benefits of Universal Design and Access (UDA), and the inclusion of persons with disabilities. It also served to provide support in accelerating the implementation of existing legislation advocating equality for persons and disabilities and access to opportunities. 

South Africa still faces challenges in advancing the rights of persons with disabilities, as it observed DRAM in November 2023. The national theme for 2023 was “Consolidate and accelerate rights of persons with disabilities into the future”. Related to this umbrella theme, was the CBE’s contextualised one of “Co-creation of spaces which entrench universal access”. 

Protocols and standards 

Speaking on the topic of UDA, Benny Palime, director of advocacy and mainstreaming for rights of persons with disabilities from the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, explained that the department has issued a framework on UDA. 

All government buildings, whether owned or leased, must meet the standards required for universal access. This includes health, education, justice, police and public works. The private sector must also comply and will be subjected to the same international protocols and standards. 

All government departments must submit accessibility plans by the end of March 2024 and need to take responsibility as lead agents in this matter. “We are serious,” said Palime. “Non-compliance will mean either a heavy fine and, in certain circumstances, contempt of court leading to jail time.” 



Accessibility to buildings 

In his presentation, Ndumiso Rolomane, director of infrastructure research, planning and systems from the Eastern Cape Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, defined some of the concepts and encouraged building for everyone: 

  • Accessible design is focussed on the principles of extending standard design to people with some type of performance limitation to maximise the number of potential customers who can readily use a product, building or service. 
  • Accessible facilities are designed for all users of a building or external environment, including the young and old, and those of all sizes, abilities and disabilities. 
  • Accessible, with respect to buildings or parts of buildings, means that people, regardless of their age, size, ability or disability, can both access and use the building and its facilities. 

Principles of design 

Rolomane emphasised the need for the design principles to be applied intentionally and to focus on a human-centred approach: 

  • Functionality – adaptability, accessibility, energy efficiency, safety and security, and inclusiveness. 
  • Durability – materials, construction methods, maintenance, tolerance for error. 
  • Aesthetics – proportion, balance, unity, contrast, detail, scale. 
  • Equitable use – the design is to accommodate people with different disabilities. 
  • Simple and intuitive – using the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level. 
  • Low physical effort – can be used efficiently, comfortably and with the minimum tiredness. 
  • Size and space are appropriate to the approach, reach, operation and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility. 

“Understand the people you are designing for, by talking to those people who are affected,” said Rolomane. “Then produce ideas that match what you have learned.” 

Universal design and access 

Surprise Mokgope, deputy director of gender at the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, discussed the difference between universal design and universal access: 

  • Universal design refers to the design of products, environments, programmes and services to be usable by all persons to the greatest extent possible, without limitations or barriers. It acknowledges that among any group of human beings of any age, there is diversity in physical, psychological and social functioning. 
  • Universal access means the removal of cultural, physical, social and other barriers that prevent persons from accessing and participating fully on an equal basis with other citizens. 

 “Universal design is the most important tool to achieve universal access,” confirmed Mokgope. 

Inaugural colloquium 

Concluding the DRAM campaign, the CBE was hosting an inaugural colloquium on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 5 December 2023, to help promote, support, educate and advance the participation of persons with disabilities in the sector. This will be done through the Health, Safety, Public Protection and Universal Access (HSPPUA) Transformation Collaborative Forum (TCF) as one of its focus areas. 

Regulatory frameworks in South Africa 

  • National Building Regulations, SANS 10400, Part S -2011: Facilities for persons with disabilities (sold at SABS, www.sabs.co.za). 
  • The White Paper on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (WPRPD) was approved by the Cabinet in December 2015. 
  • The Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, RSA – Notice 606 OF 202, National Strategic Framework on Universal Design & Access, 2021. 
  • South African Human Rights, promoting the right to work of persons with disabilities (www.sahrc.org.za).  
  • Public Service Regulation 2016 as amended in 2023 (www.dpsa.gov.za). 


 Full acknowledgement and thanks go to https://cbe.org.za/ for the information in this article.

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