Planning for universal design

Planning for equitable access

Planning for equitable access is based on the concept and principles of universal design. In a practical sense in relation to sport and recreation facilities, this means that planning should be undertaken to ensure that the design of the facility supports and enables use by everyone. This includes children and older adults, people of different sizes and abilities, people with and without access challenges, people who are left handed or right handed and people using a range of mobility aids.

Fundamental to effective planning are notions central to universal design of equitable and dignified access, for example, if people using mobility aids, such as prams or wheelchairs, can only enter a building through a rear entry and must move through a working kitchen to reach the customer service area because there are steps at the principal pedestrian entry with no level entry or ramp access, then equitable, dignified access has not been provided.

A key aim of equitable access and design in sporting and recreation facilities is that everybody is afforded the same opportunities to participate in all aspects of the facilities, programs and services and has access to products in an equitable, dignified manner. This includes people who are active sporting participants, administrators, spectators, visitors and others who may be using the facility for any reason, at any time.

Key elements of sport and recreation facilities

Equitable access to all key elements of sport and recreation facilities must be considered to ensure everyone can participate. In general, these elements include:

  • amenities, for example, toilets, showers and change rooms
  • buildings
  • communications systems
  • entrances and exits
  • installations, for example, drinking fountains, seating and litter bins
  • lighting
  • pedestrian pathways systems
  • play spaces
  • spectator areas
  • wayfinding and information systems.

Key functional abilities and supports

In order for planning to occur in the design and development of these key elements to support equitable access, consideration must be given to a wide range of issues that impact on the ability of people to effectively use sport and recreation facilities.

These issues relate to a person’s functional abilities and incorporate the general functional needs of all people, as well as functional needs that may be specific to individuals. These include:

  • balance
  • bending and kneeling
  • coordination
  • extremes of size and weight
  • hearing
  • height
  • interpreting information
  • left or right hand preference
  • mobility
  • moving limbs or head
  • reach and leaning
  • stamina
  • strength
  • using hands and fingers
  • vision.

In addition, a range of functional supports used by many people must also be considered when designing for equitable access. In sporting and recreation facilities these functional supports could include:

  • assistance animals
  • communication devices, for example, boards or mobile telephones
  • crutches
  • electric scooters
  • flotation and swimming supports
  • hearing aids and assistive listening devices
  • mobile hoists
  • portable seating
  • prams / strollers
  • reading and distance glasses
  • trolleys to carry equipment;
  • umbrellas and shade structures
  • walkers
  • walking canes
  • wheelchairs – dry and aquatic, large and small, manual and electric
  • white canes.

These functional supports could also include fixed installations such as:

  • adequate lighting
  • audible and visible emergency alarms in buildings
  • baby and adult change tables
  • battery recharge points for scooters or electric wheelchairs
  • Braille and tactile signage
  • colour contrasts to designate spaces, for example, male toilets, female toilets
  • contrasting strips across glass doors and walls
  • controls and light switches that are easy to reach by children and adults who are standing or seated
  • D or D type lever door handles
  • grab rails for both left and right handed users
  • handrails at heights for both adults and children
  • hazard tactile ground surface indicators prior to stairs and ramps and other hazards
  • large, rocker type light switches
  • large, proud, push buttons on controls in contrast to background surfaces
  • level, slip resistant floor and ground surfaces (in wet and dry conditions)
  • nosings on step treads
  • ramps with gentle gradients
  • seats in showers
  • seats with backs and armrests at a variety of heights and locations
  • soft fall surfaces under play equipment that can be easily traversed by a person using a mobility aid
  • shade and shelter
  • visible and audible alerts at water sequencing changes in swimming pools, for example, wave pools
  • wide entry and exit points
  • wide pathways and corridors with contrast edges.

Case study – Toilet

The following case study of a toilet is provided to highlight how the range of key functional abilities of a person needs to be considered in design by identifying how these can impact on a person using the toilet.

Note: This is an example only and relevant Australian Standards would need to be used in the design of any accessible toilet facilities.

Table 1: Design of a toilet addressing functional ability of a person

Functional abilityExample of impact on use of a toilet
BalanceSitting on the toilet seat
Bending and kneelingOpening the toilet seat lid
CoordinationUsing the toilet paper holder / hand dryer
Extremes of size and weightMoving easily within the allocated space
HearingHearing an emergency alarm in the building
HeightUsing the mirror
Interpreting informationIdentifying the correct facility, for example, male, female or unisex
Left or right hand preferenceAccessing the grab rails next to the toilet pan
MobilityMoving a mobility aid within the space
Moving limbs or headTransferring on to the toilet
Reach and leaningReaching the flushing control, grabrails and other fittings
Stamina Location and distance to travel to toilet
StrengthOpening the door
Using hands and fingersOperating the door handle, occupied indicator, taps or other controls
VisionLocating the seat and flushing control, using signage

Case study – Portable ramp

The following case study of a portable ramp is provided to highlight how the range of key functional abilities of a person needs to be considered in design by identifying how these can impact on a person using a ramp.

Note: This is an example only and relevant Australian Standards would need to be used in the design of any ramp.

Table 2: Design of a portable ramp addressing functional ability of a person

Functional abilityExample of impact on use of a ramp
BalanceMoving along a sloped surface
CoordinationMoving along the ramp within the defined kerbs and handrails particularly at any curve in the ramp
Extremes of size and weightMoving easily within the allocated ramp width and overhead clearance
Hearing Hearing an emergency alarm in the building
HeightAvoiding any overhead obstructions
Interpreting informationIdentifying the entry to the ramp
Left or right hand preferenceAccessing the handrails on either side of the ramp
MobilityMoving a mobility aid within the space
Moving limbs or headEnsuring side clearance to allow use of the handrails without contact with any adjoining walls
Reach and leaningReaching the handrails
StaminaLandings at appropriate locations along the ramp for resting
Appropriate gradient of the ramp
StrengthMoving a mobility aid along the ramp
Using hands and fingersUsing the handrails
VisionLocating the ramp edges/kerbs and signage

Dimensions - Buildings, facilities and installations

The Australian Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards 2010 provide minimum requirements for access to new and upgraded buildings for people with disabilities. While designing facilities to meet the needs of people with disabilities usually results in improved access for everyone, it does not incorporate all of the elements of effective equitable access.

It is, however, widely accepted that these are the minimum starting points that should be used when determining the basic requirements for equitable access to buildings.

These Standards are limited and do not address a range of important dimensional considerations for building elements, including general signage and wayfinding, emergency exits, communication, information or fixtures, fittings or installations.

In order to gain further information regarding dimensions and a guide to design for improved access, the Australian Standards for Access and Mobility must also be used, particularly AS1428 parts 1 – 5 and other related Standards, including car parking and lifts.

A summary of key access dimensions is provided in this guide (Summary of key access dimensions) and links are provided throughout this guide that are related to specific building and installation elements to assist with equitable access and design. A full list of all these links is also provided in this guide (Links to other relevant information).

Dimensions - Functional supports

The range of functional supports used by many people is wide and varied in its dimensions and therefore poses some challenges in designing for equitable access.

Similar to buildings, the suite of Australian Standards for Access and Mobility 1428 parts 1 – 5, as well as the Australian Standards for Car Parking and Lifts are used as an indication of the requirements for some of these functional supports. As identified for buildings, facilities and installations, these Standards relate primarily to the needs of people with disabilities and do not incorporate all of the elements of effective equitable access.

However, in order to gain further information regarding minimum dimensions for functional supports and a guide to design for equitable access, the following links are provided for further reference:

Table 3: Useful links for functional supports

Functional supportsLinks
Assistance animalsAssistance Dogs Australia
Guide Dogs
Lions Hearing Dogs
Australian Support Dogs
Australian StandardsAustralian Standards
Communication devices and white canesVision Australia
Compliance guidelines for websitesWorld Wide Web
Crutches and electric scootersIndependent Living Centre
Eye glassesOptometrists Association of Australia
Equipment trolleysAustralian Standards
Flotation and swimmingRoyal Life Saving Society
Hearing aids and assistive listening devices Australian Hearing
Australian Standards
Mobile hoistsIndependent Living Centre
Seating, prams and strollersAustralian Standards
Shade structuresLightweight Structures Association of Australasia
Walkers, walking canes and wheelchairsIndependent Living Centre
Wayfinding design guidelines and wayfinding system auditConstruction innovation

General planning considerations

In addition to planning a recreation or sporting facility for equitable access (being mindful of the principles of universal design), there are a number of other general planning considerations that must be addressed.

These include:

  • undertaking a feasibility study
  • engaging the community in consultation
  • identifying initial funding
  • determining a suitable location
  • estimating and addressing environmental impact issues
  • developing appropriate energy efficiency strategies
  • determining ongoing sustainability
  • developing a facility management plan
  • identifying and planning long term maintenance
  • addressing issues of cultural and gender appropriateness
  • determining and planning ongoing cost issues
  • designing for specific sports or recreation activities.


Accessible websites containing information about buildings, facilities and services related to sport and leisure facilities are essential to make use easy for everyone.

Access to up-to-date information is important as well as the key accessible features of the facility, the availability of accessible parking, toilets and change facilities and other key elements that impact on the usability of the location.

Key requirements

  • Clear concise information presented in appropriate fonts, typeface, colour and contrast and is consistent in its graphic style and text use.Appropriate use of international symbols of access or deafness which clearly designate elements, sites and services where services are available, staff information booth and accessible toilets.
  • Visitor's Guide (where applicable) for download.
  • Management procedures established to ensure any information on a website is updated and correct on a regular basis.
  • Links to other appropriate websites and information points.
  • Avoidance of colours within the range of a 'ripening of a tomato', green, yellow, orange, red on website.
  • A website that is designed to meet the W3C World Wide Web Accessibility Guidelines and includes the following minimum key elements: 
  • appropriate font type, style and size
  • dark text on light background in preference to light on dark
  • highest possible colour contrast
  • no patterned or screened background
  • use of upper and lower case (not capitals only)
  • wide spacing between letters
  • wide margins on pages
  • bold and larger print for headings
  • use of characters such as brackets, slashes, colons, semi–colons and hyphens sparingly
  • left aligned text with ragged right side
  • text description to explain tables, graphs and photographs
  • symbols and / or illustrations
  • text without underlines or italics
  • alternatives to PDF documents, Word, RTF
  • options to change text size
  • audio options for listening.

Key access dimensions

  • Minimum 12 point.
  • Minimum 18 point for publications that target older adults or people with vision impairment.
  • Sans serif type font, Arial or Helvetica.
  • Minimum 16 point leading (line spacing).

Links to other relevant information