Is there a legal time frame for all existing buildings, to which there is public access, to be made accessible to all persons with disabilities?


Accessibility should be based on widely known and respected sets of criteria. This ensures both that it meets the interest of all persons with disabilities, and that it conforms to the highest standards. And it refers not only to the built environment itself but also to signage. If there is legislation in place, what is the timeframe for all existing buildings to be accessible to all persons with disabilities? If there is no timeframe set by legislation, is it planned? And if so, when is it expected to enter into law – if at all? 

In detail


49% of respondents reported there are no legal time frames for existing buildings. In some EU countries however, governments have adopted 5 year time frames in average to make existing buildings accessible. Despite the legal time frames, there are several issues such as a lack of implementation strategies on non-conforming buildings that prevent existing buildings to be made accessible. These issues include:

  • Lack of awareness on guidelines for reconstructing buildings
  • Businesses’ buildings are less exposed to sanctions on non-conformance
  • The conflict with heritage influences accessibility measures for existing building guidelines, making these more flexible for heritage buildings
  • Authorities difficultly monitor buildings, and regulations become easily circumvented. NGOs and disability rights’ advocacy agencies often fill the gap by acting as watchdogs.

“[…] There is some lack of awareness of the law in situations involving reconstruction of an older building, so sometimes reconstruction repeats the same accessibility barriers as before.”  (Andrea Shettle, Program Manager, U.S. International Council on Disabilities – United States)

“All buildings built before 2002 also are under the scope of the Building act. It is advised to renovate them as accessible as possible unless the cost is too much and unsound or if heritage protection rules forbid it. However, often this is used to justify impractical and cheaper solutions. The higher costs that are required to make an existing building accessible, may be seen as too high, it is possible to grant accessibility in historical heritage buildings with more costly solutions that fit to the historical surroundings (elevator doors with same style and wooden doors, ramp not metallic but wooden or brick, elevators hidden under historic steps/stairs that move away temporarily to make room for elevators, etc).” (Sven Kõllamets, Specialist, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia)

“The law applies fully to all buildings open to the public, except when the means required to implement accessibility are disproportionately difficult, or requires disproportionate economic and financial means, or when they significantly affect cultural or historical heritage. Moreover, the law is not enforced, mainly by Portuguese state. There are still numerous schools and colleges, health centres, departments of finances etc. that are inaccessible. The inaccessibility concerns the construction, communication and information. (Anan Luisa Martins Sezudo, President of National Board, member of DPI, Associação Portuguesa de Deficientes, member of DPI, Portugal)

CRPD Article

Article 9- Accessibility

“1. To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information and communications, including information and communications technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas. These measures, which shall include the identification and elimination of obstacles and barriers to accessibility, shall apply to, inter alia:

a) Buildings, roads, transportation and other indoor and outdoor facilities, including schools, housing, medical facilities and workplaces;

b) Information, communications and other services, including electronic services and emergency services.

2. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures:

a) To develop, promulgate and monitor the implementation of minimum standards and guidelines for the accessibility of facilities and services open or provided to the public;

b) To ensure that private entities that offer facilities and services which are open or provided to the public take into account all aspects of accessibility for persons with disabilities;

c) To provide training for stakeholders on accessibility issues facing persons with disabilities;

d) To provide in buildings and other facilities open to the public signage in Braille and in easy to read and understand forms;

e) To provide forms of live assistance and intermediaries, including guides, readers and professional sign language interpreters, to facilitate accessibility to buildings and other facilities open to the public;

f) To promote other appropriate forms of assistance and support to persons with disabilities to ensure their access to information;

g) To promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the Internet;

h) To promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information and communications technologies and systems at an early stage, so that these technologies and systems become accessible at minimum cost.”

(UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)