Accessible property for schools

Information, guidance and legal requirements for making schools accessible.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Architects and designers
  • Principals and tumuaki
  • Project managers

As a board, you must meet the legal requirements for making your school accessible for students, their caregivers and staff with learning support needs

Inclusive access to education

The Ministry of Education aims to deliver an inclusive education system, where all students have barrier free access to quality education. Part of providing an inclusive education system is ensuring that the built environment is accessible and supports the needs of people with disabilities.

Investment in infrastructure has long term effects, it shapes how well the education system functions for future generations. It is essential we accelerate progress to improve accessibility of school buildings and sites in ways that benefit all users including ākonga, kaiako and the community.

Inclusive access to school property

As a Board, you need to work towards making your school accessible for students, whanau, caregivers and staff who have disabilities. You must meet the legal requirements for access to your school and we encourage you to go beyond the minimum requirements.

Accessibility is a broad, all-encompassing term that is more inclusive than just mobility access.

With every upgrade or building project planned at your school there is an opportunity to include accessibility upgrades at the same time. This is a more efficient and cost effective way to progressively make your school more accessible even if your school doesn’t currently have any disabled students, staff or caregivers.

When working with your project manager, property planner or designer on a building or site upgrade, consider how you can make your school property accessible. It’s important to consider how school buildings, property and infrastructure work together to increase overall accessibility.

Universal design principles

When planning property projects at your school, pragmatically follow universal design principles and aim to provide equitable access, dignity and respect for all school users. 

Universal design in the built environment principles:

  • Everyone should be included, irrespective of their capability, knowledge, skill level, race, religion, gender, age or size.
  • Everywhere should be physically accessible – to everyone and achievable in an easy, safe, independent and convenient way.
  • Everything should be equally accessible, understandable and usable by everyone everywhere.
  • Design for variability from the start of the life of a building.
  • Every solution should seek to accommodate the needs of building users without excluding or segregating anyone. 

While it won’t be possible to achieve the aims of universal design all of the time, considering these principles from the very start of a project will help integrate these ideas through the design, construction and occupation phases. 

Legal requirements for access

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

Education and Training Act 2020

Section 34 of the Education and Training Act 2020 gives students who have special education needs (whether because of disability or otherwise) the same right to be enrolled at, attend and receive education at State Schools as students who do not.

Section 34 of the Education and Training Act 2020 – NZ Legislation(external link)

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

Human Rights Act 1993

Under Section 57, Human Rights Act 1993, it's unlawful for a school to deny access to a student because of their disability.

Section 57, Human Rights Act 1993 – NZ Legislation(external link)

Building Act 2004

Under Section 118, Building Act 2004, when a school is being built or altered, the school must adequately provide for people with disabilities in terms of:

  • access
  • parking
  • toilets
  • bathrooms.

Section 118, Building Act 2004 – NZ Legislation(external link)

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) Building Code a Board must make sure all students and other people with disabilities can enter the building and carry out normal activities and functions.

Clause D1 (Access Routes) Building Code – link)

New Zealand Standard 4121:2001

Under NZS 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility, buildings and associated facilities is the design standard for access and mobility. The Ministry has adopted it as mandatory and schools must follow it.

NZS 4121:2001 Design for access and mobility – Standards NZ(external link)

Refer to our designing schools in Aotearoa New Zealand standard for clarification on accessibility design requirements.

Designing schools in Aotearoa New Zealand

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