Accessibility design for people with special needs

There are legal requirements for making your school accessible for students, their caregivers and staff with special needs. It is most cost effective to do the necessary upgrades as part of a new building project or an upgrade to an existing one.

Making your school accessible for people with special needs

You need to work towards making your school accessible for students, caregivers and staff who have special needs. As a board of trustees, you must meet the legal requirements for access to your school.

It is most cost effective to do accessibility upgrades when you are doing other work, even if your school doesn’t currently have any people with special needs.

When working with your designer to design a new building, or upgrade an existing one, consider how to make the building accessible.

Assessment tool

Use the Ministry’s Innovative Learning Environments assessment tool when planning upgrades to your school.

Innovative Learning Environment — enaling e-Learning website (external link)

Creating accessible car parks and drop-off zones

You should consider providing a parking space for people with disabilities.

Legal requirements for access

As a school board of trustees, you must meet the following legal requirements for access to schools for students with special education needs. Some of these provisions also apply to access for staff and caregivers.

Education Act 1989

Section 9 of the Education Act 1989 (New Zealand Legislation website) (external link) gives students who need special education the right to be enrolled at:

  • a state school
  • a special class, or
  • a special clinic.

The school property must be able to accommodate their special physical requirements.

Human Rights Act 1993

Under section 57 of the Human Rights Act 1993 (New Zealand Legislation website) (external link) , it is unlawful for a school to deny access to a student because of their disability.

Building Act 2004

Under section 118 of the Building Act 2004 (New Zealand Legislation website) (external link) , when a school is being built or altered, the school must adequately provide for people with disabilities in terms of:

  • access
  • parking
  • toilets
  • bathrooms.

This requirement covers all people who might use or visit the school, including:

  • students
  • staff
  • parents
  • any others who might visit the school.

Building Code

Under clause D1 (Access Routes) of the Building Code (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website) (external link) , a board of trustees must make sure all students and other people with disabilities can enter the building and carry out normal activities and functions.

New Zealand Standard 4121:2001

NZS 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility: Buildings and associated facilities (Standards NZ website) (external link) is the design standard for access and mobility. The Ministry has adopted it as mandatory and schools must follow it.

NZS 4121 includes prescriptive requirements. For example, door handles must be designed so that people with limited arm strength can open them.

If you comply with NZS 4121, you will also comply with the Building Code’s requirements for accessibility.


Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback