Housing Accessibility: A global response needed

Front cover of the publication, Accessibility of Housing.No matter where you are in the world, there is one thing all cultures share in common: a need for accessible housing. There is a gap between what we know about ageing populations and people with disability and building homes that are inclusive. The Global Network for Sustainable Housing has a handbook that aims to bridge that gap. As a global publication it addresses slum upgrading, large-scale affordable and social housing programs. The handbook provides concepts, policy approaches, practical information and technical tools. It also shines a light on the global importance of developing accessible and sustainable urban environments. It is time to apply these solutions so that we can gradually outgrow access barriers for everyone.

The title of the handbook is, “Accessibility of Housing: A Handbook of Inclusive Affordable Housing Solutions for Persons with Disabilities and Older Persons” and is published by UN Habitat. This publication has some good explanations of how and why universal design principles and approaches should be applied universally. On Page 9 it explains,

“Universal design principles, when properly interpreted, can be a solution for low-cost projects as its main concept is to adapt the design to all users. Therefore, every project can be re-thought under this perspective, the same way low-cost solutions are created to attend to a population’s needs with small budgets. Universal design provides infinity of possibilities as it allows the use of innovative solutions provided by professionals involved in the process. It is important to notice, however, that some disabilities require more elaborated strategies and occasionally the use of accessories (lifts, grab bars, lighting or acoustical signs etc.) than others.”

the Global Network for Sustainable Housing (GNSH) managed by the UN-Habitat Housing Unit.


Accessible Housing RIS Update

A graphic showing facades of different styles of free standing homes in lots of colours. They look like toy houses.The release of the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) was scheduled for 3 April. However, at the last minute, the Australian Building Codes Board decided to delay the release. According to an update from ANUHD, this is partly due to comments received from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

While we wait, it would be useful to gather some case studies. CUDA is looking for any story about costs, financial and otherwise, of modifying a home. If you have one please send the information in an email to Jane Bringolf. Remember, Livable Housing Australia wants to maintain a voluntary approach, not a regulatory one.

Alternatively, you might like to think about the value of some of these scenarios if you were building a brand new home. Would you be willing to pay an extra $50, $500 or $5000? You can comment in the reply box below:

      • How much would you pay NOT to go to aged care any sooner than you have to?
      • How much would you pay to keep your mother comfortable and safe in her home rather than have her go to aged care sooner rather than later?
      • How much would it be worth to go home from hospital earlier because you can be cared for at home?
      • You are in your hospital bed and told you can’t go home because your home doesn’t allow you to get in the door or to receive home care – how much would you pay to go home? 

Scroll down to leave your comments in the Leave a Reply box.

Here is the information ANUHD (Australian Network for Universal Housing Design) received from the Australian Building Codes Board: 

“As of yesterday [31 March 2020], a subcommittee of the Board agreed to delay the release of the Consultation RIS to enable time for further refinements to be carried out to the document, partly in response to comments received from the Disability Discrimination Commissioner.

“Please note that it was only agreed to delay the release of the Consultation RIS. The release will still proceed once the sub-committee is satisfied with the document. It is hoped that the delay will only be for a matter of weeks.”

The purpose of the RIS is to weigh the costs and benefits of applying the Silver and Gold levels of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is measured against the cost of doing nothing different at all. This is against the backdrop of population ageing and demands from the disability sector for a better deal. Keep in mind that one third of Australian households include a person with disability – not a small number. And it’s households we should be measuring, not individuals with disability or who are ageing. 

For more information on the RIS see previous post. Feel free to share this post through your networks.

Homes need to be fit for purpose

Open doors showing level entry from the kitchen to the al fresco.A promotional video asks the question “Why wouldn’t you?”. It is aimed at the buyers of brand new homes. It extols the virtues of universal design. However, I would ask the designers and builders the same question: Why wouldn’t you just include it? It doesn’t look any different from anything else you would build. Not unless you actually notice the convenient step-free threshold and the open plan living. Housing is the probably the only product that deliberately excludes a significant proportion of the population. Yes. Significant. More than one third of households have a person with disability living in it. And I haven’t added the extra 22% of the population with chronic health conditions. The ABS counts this group separately from people with disability. 

Research by Phillippa Carnemolla shows that family care hours dropped by 47% after a home was modified to be more accessible. That’s because the individual could do much more for themselves. Difficult to argue the economics on that one. 

I wrote an article on this for arguing the case for universal design in housing using the video as the basis for the discussion.  

Jane Bringolf, Editor

Brisbane encourages SDA housing

Blue and yellow logo of Brisbane City Council.Developers who deliver homes to Livable Housing Guidelines will receive a 33% reduction in infrastructure charges. The Brisbane City Council incentive scheme is not aimed at the mainstream market. It adds to the funding for Specialist Disabilty Housing (SDA) that is already on offer from the Commonwealth Government. 

The Property Council of Australia who negotiated this outcome welcomed the news in a media release. The Council has a fact sheet explaining the conditions of the incentive which is for Gold and Platinum level of the Livable Housing Guidelines.

Editor’s comment: While this is good for those interested in the SDA sector, it further entrenches the notion that universal design is only about people with disability. The benefits for including UD features in all housing are once again marginalised. With the upcoming Regulation Impact Statement due early next year, such schemes will only confuse the industry. The Disability Royal Commission has no doubt been a driver of the scheme because specialist housing is urgently needed.


Ageing in the right place

Front cover showing the four steps.Advocates are calling for all new homes to include universal design features, but what about current homes? Even if occupants decide to renovate and include such features, how will they know what might be needed? The My Home My Choices tool can help.

The tool has four steps: individual wants and issues; opportunities for improvement in the home and lifestyle: different options for maximising the use and value of the home; and other choices such as moving, sharing, home modifications and home support. This well researched tool is easily adapted from this New Zealand model. 

Another research group has developed a prototype web application to use at home when needed, over time and at the user’s own pace. It consists of three modules Think, Learn and Act to facilitate awareness, offer information and knowledge and enable the user to decide and act on issues relating to housing. Topics are: preferences, the home, the neighbourhood, health status, social network and support, financial situation, the future, options for help and support and housing options.

A poor fit between the home and what older people need can lead to unnecessary care needs, loneliness, worse quality of life, increased caregiver time and early institutionalisation. 


Why wouldn’t you?

Graphic of a purple house shape with green outline for a window and a door.The catch cry “Why wouldn’t you? is the three word tag used in promotional material to promote universal design in housing. A builder, and a building designer are calling their collaboration Project Silver. They are promoting Livable Housing Australia’s Silver Level for improved liveability. The mystery is if it would cost so little in the scheme of things, why aren’t the building designer and builder just doing it automatically? The catch cry should be to the builder – why wouldn’t you just do it? Then no-one would have to label the home as some kind of special design.

The six minute video (below) puts the case very well. It includes contributions from different people, including the mayor of the Sunshine Coast. It’s worth a watch. Another builder in Townsville is telling the same story

Editor’s comment: The builder claims Silver Level costs an additional $3000 to potentially save $60,000. Possibly it is another way to sell an “extra” and therefore the customer pays over and above the actual cost of the features.

Australian Network on Universal Housing Design supports the Gold Level of the guidelines. It considers this level makes homes fit for purpose for the majority of the population across their lifetime. 


Joining the dots for ageing in place

A chart shows the four main features of Lifelong homes: Safety, Walkable community, Visitability, and Affordability.A research paper from Colorado State University brings together all the elements for successful ageing in place – universal design in housing, walkable and wheelable communities and a discussion on home and place, and what it means for residents. It shows how simply providing infrastructure is insufficient to support population ageing. While the situation is a little different in the US, the research supports Australian studies and the advocacy for universal design in housing. However, the recommendation for market incentives in terms of certification has not worked in Australia, save for the specialised homes specifically for people with disability. It is a similar situation in New Zealand. It has not produced mainstream uptake of accessible housing.

The tile of the report is, Colorado Lifelong Homes: A review of barriers and solutions for aging in place. 

Abstract: Colorado’s aging population is growing, yet our housing options are not evolving to support this population. The need for housing that accommodates older adults as they age is crucial to balancing demands on other services, such as assisted living facilities, and to support successful and healthy aging. Most homes in our state are not built using principles of universal design that support successful aging in place. The outcomes of community and industry engagement activities show that advocating for lifelong housing is a critical step to help advance age-friendly housing in the state of Colorado. This paper summarizes key research and industry trends related to lifelong homes, the barriers in the marketplace, and the key qualities of lifelong homes. Based on this research, we present a path forward for advancing affordable, healthy, and safe home options for our growing population of older adults in Colorado and beyond.


Stylish bathrooms with UD

A step free shower with a glass partition.The Housing Industry Association website has a page tucked away titled, Aesthetically Accessible. It shows how designing and constructing a bathroom can be “accessible to people of all abilities and ages”. And it is becoming much easier, “with more beautiful results than ever”. The key points for accessibility are discussed in the article with lots of pictures. Livable Housing Design Guidelines are mentioned, and so they should. HIA was one of the stakeholders in the development of the Guidelines. However, this is only one page relating to accessibility. More recent news on bathrooms returns to the regular design ideas and the importance of fashion trends and style inspiration without reference to the Guidelines. Universal design and inspired style are compatible – they are not mutually exclusive.

Editor’s comment: At the recent access consultants’ conference, the Chair of of LHA, Alex Waldron, said that LHA maintains its stance on voluntary adoption of the guidelines. This leads to the conclusion that they will not be supporting changes to the National Construction Code proposed by the Australian Building Codes Board.


Home Builder Goes for Silver

A view from the kitchen to the alfresco showing an adjustable bench top acting as a table.A home builder in Queensland, is building Livable Housing Silver level homes and he wants everyone else to follow his lead. He has persuaded Townsville City Council and industry stakeholders to come together to make this possible. In a 9 minute video (below) various people explain the importance of Silver level to them. The best parts of the video are in the second half where Martin Locke shows how Silver level homes are modern and “normal”. One key point is that it shows there are no design or technical impediments for having Silver (or Gold) level in all new housing.

The video begins with several wheelchair users explaining their situation. But wheelchair users are only one part of the story of universal design in housing. The emphasis on wheelchair users is likely to perpetuate the idea that this is “disability housing” and this puts it in the “specialised housing” bracket. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are about everyone, not just wheelchair users.

Locke believes Silver level can be rolled out without additional regulation. In theory this might be true. However, the evidence is not with him. The industry, particularly the mass market section, relies on regulation to hold the system together so that all the designers, engineers, and trades know what they are doing and can work in tandem.

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) supports Gold level of the Guidelines because these thoughtful features are good for everyone, and especially for older people and young children. Locke’s estimations of extra cost need further examination. For example, he doesn’t say why a level shower recess and level access into the home should cost more than current designs. If included as regular practice the cost, if any, would be negligible.

It’s great to see at least one community trying to make a difference in this space. Martin Locke and the Townsville City Mayor are to be congratulated for their efforts in bringing people together to show the way for the house-building industry.

Accessible home design

Front cover of the UD for houses guideline.Lifemark and BRANZ, the building research organisation in New Zealand, have produced a guideline titled Universal Design for Houses. The drawings and design ideas are based on wheelchair users. This is useful for understanding circulation space that’s good for wheelchair users and also good for everyone. However, not everything good for wheelchair users is good for everyone – so not exactly universal design. The guide is concise and has lots of graphs to illustrate design ideas. Topics include what’s legally required, getting in and out of the home, wet areas, kitchens, hardware and lifts in dwellings. 

For more universal application in all homes, see the Livable Housing Design Guidelines

Editor’s comment: Translating the term universal design into designs for wheelchair users is a common error. But if you need to design for a generic wheelchair user, this is a good guide.