Elderly person in wheelchair being pushed up ramp at tourist Skytree observation tower in Tokyo

Mobility Disabilities

According to data published by the ABS in 2009, there are over 555,000 Australians using a mobility aid. Of these, 242,000 use a walking frame, over 126,000 use a manual wheelchair and a further 50,000 use either a scooter or electric wheelchair.[1] The ABCB reported that the number of people physically needing the assistance of a passenger lift to evacuate a building can be estimated by using this ABS data. The ABCB found that of the population 10.5% have a mobility disability, of which 2.5% of the population use a mobility aid and 0.6% of the population use a wheelchair, which equates to approximately 1 in 166 people.[2]

In the United States the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the most common functional disability type was mobility disability, reported by about 1 in 8 adults, whilst it has been found that 1 in 5 adults (or over 53 million people) in the United States have a disability of one form or another.[3] When this data is further analysed, it has been found that:

  • 10% of adults have difficulties climbing a flight of stairs (which increases to 30.2% for people aged over 65 years of age)
  • 5% of adults use a wheelchair (which increases to 5.2% for people aged over 65 years of age)
  • 7% of adults use a cane, crutches, or walker (which increases to 17.9% for people aged over 65 years of age)[4]

However, in the United Kingdom it has been reported that 1.9% of the population use a wheelchair[5] and when we consider that a surprisingly large proportion of society across westernised countries use a wheelchair and are likely to be visiting public buildings, schools, universities, workplaces, transport centres, sports stadiums and the like on a frequent basis, it is critical that their needs during an evacuation are considered.

[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009, 4446.0 – Disability, Australia, 2009, http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/4446.02009?OpenDocument, viewed 26 August 2015

[2] Australian Building Codes Board 2013, Lifts Used During Evacuation Handbook Non-Mandatory Document, p.35, http://www.abcb.gov.au/education-events-resources/publications/abcb-handbooks, viewed 26 August 2015

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Key Findings: Prevalence of Disability and Disability Type among Adults, United States – 2013, http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/features/key-findings-community-prevalence.html, viewed 28 August 2015

[4] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prevalence and Most Common Causes of Disability Among Adults — United States, 2005, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5816a2.htm, viewed 28 August 2015

[5] Disabled World, U.K. Wheelchair User Statistics, http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics/wheelchair-stats.php, viewed 29 August 2015


Buildings need exit and emergency signs to identify parts of the accessible means of egress. An Accessible Exit Sign Project Initiative.

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