It’s not wet, just shiny

A large arched window lets in light. It has struts that cast line shadows over the floorA shiny floor may not be wet but it could look that way to someone with dementia. A black mat isn’t a hole in the ground either. And shadows of lattice through a window can look like steps. Mono coloured features are hard to distinguish too. These design details can easily be overcome with some extra thought about perception at the early design stage, or adapted in existing homes and buildings. The Guardian has an excellent article about these issues. It discusses how virtual reality software can bring more awareness to designers about these issues as well as the concepts of universal design. 

Editor’s note: taking photos of places and seeing them in two dimensions instead of three really highlights the perception differences.

hallway with lighting across the floor making it look like steps corridor with a shiny floor, brightly lit, but it looks wet










Be safe at home with UD

carpeted stairway in a homeThe latest newsletter from Lifemark in New Zealand points out how many people fall and injure themselves at home. They also cut and burn themselves badly enough to need hospital treatment. How could such injuries be avoided? The newsletter article on Better Design, Safer Homes, has tips for stairs, bathrooms, kitchens, and entrances. There are more universal design tips in the Homescore self assessment tool. The article concludes, “A safer home benefits all occupants (and visitors), not just older people. Children, in particular will benefit from a design that recognises and addresses risk areas and by doing so creates a more liveable space for everyone”. There is more in their June newsletter.


Dementia Friendly Home

A turquoise background with a black owl graphic features on the front page of the appDementia Australia has produced an app for tablets and smartphones to help with creating a dementia-friendly home. It uses interactive 3D game technology which provides carers with ideas on how to make the home more suitable for people living with dementia. Most people with dementia live in the community and many enjoy everyday activities and stay engaged with their communities. Suitable home design is key to staying active and involved.

The App is based on the ten Dementia Enabling Environments Principles and prompts carers and others to think about many of the small inexpensive ideas that can make a big difference. Technology solutions such as sensors for lighting are also covered. Tips include removing clutter and changing busy patterned wall or floor coverings to help with perception and confusion. You can also see some of the research underpinning the Dementia Enabling Environments Principles. To see what it is like to live with dementia, have a look at the Virtual Dementia Experience


Housing for Life Guidelines

Front cover of handbook showing a drawing of a houseHere is another set of guidelines for housing to add to your collection. This one is by Master Builders Association ACT. Although Housing for Life is more than ten years old the principles still hold because it is good design. Apart from the usual attention to access and circulation spaces, it includes thermal comfort, security, lighting, operating controls and maintenance. Lots of diagrams and drawings help with explanations – it is a builder/designer perspective. There is also a handy metric conversion chart for people still using imperial measures. The guide was funded by the Commonwealth Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Other handbooks include:

Go to the Housing Design Guidelines section on this website for more about kitchens, bathrooms, lighting and other aspects of home design.  

Note: this document is not readily available. I have posted a copy I found in my files. It is available through the National Library of Australia (Trove) if you want hard copy. Or you can try the MBA ACT.  The references to the Adaptable Housing Standard are less relevant now – see more recent guidelines.


Universal Design in Housing

Front cover of book showing lots of different sized and coloured cubes stacked. The title banner is in dark yellow For anyone not familiar with the movement for universal design in housing, Introduction to Housing has a chapter that gives a really good overview of how to incorporate UD into the design. It covers each of the design features and explains that they can be factored into moderately sized homes. The chapter addresses each of the classic principles of universal design and how they apply to housing design. A case study illustrates the features. As with many Google Books, many of the pages are freely available, but for the full chapter you will need to contact the authors, Hartje, Ewen and Tremblay or purchase the book.

Introduction to Housing, 2nd edition, is edited by Katrin B. Anacker, Andrew T. Carswell, Sarah D. Kirby, Kenneth R. Tremblay. 


A tiny house can be accessible

Inside the Wheel Pad showing the bedroom with a colourful quilt on the bedInhabitat website has a feature about the Wheel Pad. The 200 sq ft (18.5 sqm) residence is designed to be an add-on to an existing home. It comes on a trailer and stays on the wheels. This means it can be taken away again if the “house” isn’t needed any more. The original idea arose out of a need to incorporate someone after an accident that made them dependent on a wheelchair for getting around. The explanatory  video on this website is almost ten minutes long, but well worth the watch. It covers the design process, the features, and finally two wheelchair users who visit and give their feedback about the design. This idea could be adapted in Australia as long as the existing home has a yard big enough to take it, and they claim it can be built in a day. A must see for anyone involved in providing home modifications. Also suited to bringing a parent close to home.

Editor’s note: I found the trial by the two wheelchair users at the end very informative. The ramp was a bit steep and long so they used the wooden rails to pull themselves up (splinters were mentioned), and one had difficulty coming over the threshold. They discussed what worked and what might not and how things could be changed to suit.


Specialist guide for wheelchair housing

Front cover of the guide. Line drawings of housing using light blue, dark blue and lime greenThe latest Habinteg Wheelchair Housing Design Guide has input from several specialists at Centre for Accessible Environments and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. It is good to see a separate guide for wheelchair users. Not all wheelchair users need the same features as their abilities vary greatly from part time users of a manual chair to those who are fully dependent on a large powered chair. And more importantly, when it comes to the concept of “accessible housing” designers tend to think only of wheelchair users when there are many other types of disability that need consideration. Wheelchair housing is not the same as universal design in housing. There are instructions on how to purchase in the UK, and you can also access a copy via Angus and Robertson.

“The clear explanations and the reasoning behind the technical standards will help practitioners gain a better understanding of how to maximise the independence of residents – and will be particularly useful to those who wish to go beyond basic minimum standards and help create inclusive and cohesive communities”

Habinteg’s mission is to champion inclusion by providing and promoting accessible homes and neighbourhoods that welcome and include everyone. We do this in three ways: providing homes and services, demonstrating our expertise and influencing decisions.  


23 ways to benefit with UD

A modern kitchen with a bowl of fruit in the foreground and a stove and microwave in the backgroundAdaptive Environments is a Canadian website with design ideas. Good design means functionality while remaining nearly invisible. This is one of the difficulties of showcasing universal design – it is not always obvious until it is pointed out. It is more obvious when something is poorly designed. It is about being thoughtful in the design process. The kitchen and bathroom get good attention with great tips in this article on the Adaptive Environments webpage – 23 Ways you can benefit from universal design. There are lots of nice pictures too. 


Designing homes for inclusion and independence

Front cover of the guidelines showing three people standing and one in a wheelchair looking out over a beach sceneThe aim of the NDIS is to create independence and inclusion, and that includes providing suitable homes in mainstream settings. So no more segregated group homes – more homes in regular neighbourhoods. Federal funding for NDIS recipients has increased demand for specialists in the accessible housing field. To assist designers and builders produce specialist housing, Summer Housing has produced design guidelines, Designing for Inclusion and Independence – An Explanatory Guide to support the Briefing and Design of Accessible Housing. They are keen to build sector capacity and share knowledge and resources.

This guide serves as a practical tool to develop the brief, design and specifications of high quality accessible housing. Key considerations are social inclusion, usability, homelike environments, amenity and cost-efficiency. The guide includes checklists as well as practice tips and includes current design benchmarks such as the Livable Housing Australia Guidelines, and Specialist Disability Accommodation Design Category requirements. The guide is made up of six parts:

  • Introduction
  • Part A: Spatial Planning – Typology
  • Part B: Spatial Planning – Accessible Dwelling Elements
  • Part C: Construction and Detailing – Building Elements
  • Part D: Construction and Detailing – System Elements
  • Appendices

Summer Foundation also published a report, New Housing Options in November 2015. The learning from their early projects informed the new guidelines.

SDA Consulting has a free checklist for Specialist Disability Accommodation.


What you see and what we see

LifemarkLifemark logo. White text on magenta strip with turquoise circle behind with five white stars above the magenta strip and the word HOME below has taken designers to task in its October newsletter. It has a segment that points out that what looks like a dream bathroom or kitchen could turn out not so dreamy after all. A quick look at most of the design features and it is easy to see that a little more forethought could go a long way. The pictures below have the comments embedded. To see the full newsletter and other articles go to the Lifemark website.

Picture of a bathroom where there is no reinforcement in the walls, a toilet pan positioned where no future grab rail could be placed, and a poorly accessible shower because it is placed over the bath and with no grab rail to help get in and out for everyone's safety.


The bathroom above has a shower over the bath, the mirror is placed for a tall person, and the peninsula pan means there is no wall on which to place a grab rail if needed. (However, an over the toilet frame could work). The kitchen below has ineffective lighting, difficult to reach high cupboards, difficult to grab knobs and handles, and an unlit work area. You can also access this item on Lifemak’s Facebook page.


Picture of a kitchen showing some features that do not meet the principles of universal design: ineffective lighting, difficult to reach cupboards, difficult to grab knobs and handles, and dark corners.