Management Responsibilities Toolkit Preparation

The physical environment


Disabled learners and tauira have equitable access to the physical environment within the tertiary institution in which they will study, learn, live and take part.

Best practice standards

  1. All buildings that are required comply with or exceed the standards identified in NZS 4121:2001: Design for Access and Mobility: Buildings and Associated Facilities.
  2. Physical access audits are completed by trained BarrierFree auditors, in consultation with disability support staff and learners with different impairments.
  3. A physical access plan to improve physical access to above the minimum standard NZS 4121:2001 for learners with different impairments is developed, resources allocated, and an ongoing monitoring and review schedule established and implemented as part of the disability action plan.
  4. The annual review of the physical access plan involves learners with different impairments, disability support staff and, where necessary, those responsible for audits.
  5. Policies and procedures exist to ensure that the needs of disabled learners are taken into account when any new building work or refurbishment takes place, including consulting with the parties mentioned above.
  6. Key access features such as location of lifts, accessible telephones, toilets, routes, entrances, and parking are clearly signed and identified on location maps.
  7. Accessible parking and public transport drop-off and pick-up points (e.g. wheelchair taxis, buses), and locational signage comply with or exceed NZS 4121:2001 and consider the increasing numbers of disabled learners in the learning environment.
  8. Disabled learners are aware of recent changes affecting physical access during work on buildings and grounds, and know where to go if they find an access issue and want to report it.

“Physical accessibility is still a barrier … we want to write an accessibility action plan and get agreement on it from the exec down.”

- Disability Services Staff, Tertiary Institution.

Ideas and resources to consider

  • Some tertiary providers have developed Campus Design for Access and Mobility Policies.
  • To anticipate physical access requirements:
    • Develop a three to five-year physical access plan and commit funds each year to a prioritised list of physical access provisions. Complete this in consultation with disabled learners and disability support staff.
    • Ensure sufficient flexibility in the budget to reallocate money between departments during the year if physical access provisions are required.
    • Building works staff are trained in physical access provisions.
    • Each time alterations occur an assessment is made of how the building’s accessibility can be improved (e.g. repainting using colour contrasts for those with vision impairments, carrying out acoustic audits).
    • Develop internal physical access standards and guidelines for physical access in leased or rented buildings.
    • Create a physical access kit for staff and disabled learners.
    • Those responsible for learner timetables allow those with mobility impairments enough time to travel between classes.
    • If physical access is impossible or unreasonably difficult, the institution is flexible regarding where classes are held, including moving teaching from inaccessible areas.
    • Procedures are in place to identify disabled learners using inaccessible facilities prior to classes starting.
  • Audits and planning should cover the physical access requirements of a range of disabled learners and include buildings, landscaping, parking and public transport.
  • Audits take into account:
    • All buildings, including learner accommodation, marae, teaching, learning, administration, general and specialist support, spiritual and recreational facilities.
    • The level of compliance with the minimum requirement of NZS 4121:2001.
    • A schedule of improvements to buildings that don’t meet the required standards, which is implemented flexibly and based on emerging needs.
  • For learners with more complex needs there are new issues such as single person toilets needing to accommodate support staff and extra equipment owned by the learner that can be set up there for their use.

Engaging disabled learners

Establish a physical access reference of disabled learners with different impairments to get their user feedback about physical access requirements when completing audits and planning alterations or new buildings.

Examples of good practice

  • Ideally location signage and maps should be available in accessible formats (e.g. tactile location maps, easy to read wording and good colour contrast).
  • Alternative means of participation for disabled learners should be provided where physical access is impossible or unreasonably difficult.
  • Trained physical access auditors should be engaged:
    • At the design stage of any new buildings and alterations to existing buildings, including those to be used for learner accommodation.
    • For independent advice and to liaise with the building designers and owners on access requirements. They have specialist expertise that building designers and owners often don’t have.
    • At the completion of the building project to check a building is accessible for disabled learners in a tertiary environment.


  • In the past BarrierFree has trained accredited auditors. There may be people in your local community who are trained auditors. Contact your local office of CCS Disability Action to see if they know of anyone locally.
  • Be. Lab, formerly known as Be. Accessible, offer an assessment programme that helps businesses and organisations optimise their overall accessibility (including the physical environment, customer service, marketing materials, etc).
  • Lifemark work with designers and builders to offer advice on how to make best use of space in a home, based on the principles of universal design.
  • BRANZ takes a system-wide view of the building system in New Zealand to champion and support better outcomes. They partner with industry and government to ensure their research findings are accessible and benefit all New Zealanders. They have produced a series on universal design for homes, some of which is also relevant to commercial environments.
  • Build accessible design - Universal Design Series.
  • In Schools Universal Design for Learning (UDL) a research-based framework has been developed that may be relevant to the tertiary sector:
  • Compliance with NZS 4121:2001: Design for Access and Mobility: Buildings and Associated Facilities is essential. However, this is a minimum standard and may not provide the level of access required for some disabled learners in a tertiary environment.
    For example in health, Canterbury District Health Board also uses the Australasian Health Facility Guidelines because this is more appropriate for health facilities.

This page is current as of May 2022 Print this page