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 articleon this for arguing the case for universal design in housing using the video as the basis for the discussion.
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 City 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 Statementdue 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.
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.
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.
Across the globe, advocates for universal design in housing find themselves faced with the same myths. And these myths prevail in spite of hard evidence. AgeUK and Habinteg have put together a fact sheet, Home Truths – rebutting the 10 myths about building accessible housing. They challenge the ideas that it is too costly, difficult or undesirable. And also why the solution is not in building more age-segregated developments. It will be interesting to see how the proposal to include accessible features in the Australian building code progresses through the Regulatory Impact Statement.
Note: In the UK, Part M4 (1) of the building code mandates some basic access features. There are two other sections; one is to include adaptability, and the other is to be wheelchair accessible. However, these are optional unless it is set down in the local government plan because there is a community need. Developers challenge these plans asserting that the local authority has failed to prove the need. This indicates that industry will continue to fight for what suits them rather than occupants of the home.
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.
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.
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.
Here is the latest news from Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) on the Australian Building Codes Board project:
“The Australian Building Codes Board is undertaking a Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) for potential minimum accessibility standards for housing, to be applied through the National Construction Code (NCC).
Research into the role of State/Territory and Local Government planning policies which may relate to housing accessibility is now complete.
The research, conducted by SGS Economics and Planning on behalf of the ABCB, has identified many instances where planning policies are relevant to housing accessibility. The research has also identified variations in stringency, application and technical standards adopted, consistent with many of the views put forward regarding planning policy in responses to the Options Paper. Technical development of draft NCC provisions is still underway.
This work is being done in-house by the ABCB. Sourceable has an article giving an overview of the NCC and how it works.
The opentender process for the formal Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) has started and closes 29 July 2019.
Information is available on AusTender: All questions regarding the tender should be submitted though AusTender link. It is anticipated that the above work will be published in conjunction with the Consultation RIS.
ANUHD will continue to monitor the progress of this work. Stakeholders will be notified once the Consultation RIS is released.
Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has a webpage with best case examples in housing design. ANUHD considers the minimum standard should be the Gold Level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. ANUHD invites additional examples for the webpage. There are three categories:
Universal design in mainstream housing – mass market and architect designed homes that will suit most people across their lifespan.
Universal design in housing for people with disability – Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) for people with higher needs. Most include the Platinum level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines.