Home modification services

Home Modifications logo with silhouetted men and women Many people know that there is some kind of service to help people live at home if they they’ve had a serious accident or become frail in later life – even if they don’t know what it is called. But fewer people know about services to help with renovating their home to make it more accessible so they don’t have to go into residential care.

The peak body for the home modification organisations, MOD.A has a list of all the local home modification services. To find the one nearest to you go to their website and the Resources webpage

Other useful organisations are My Aged Care help at home page, and Independent Living Centres Australia.

MOD.A National Conference will be held in August 2017 in Sydney.

You can also read MOD.A CEO’s paper on funding home modification services.


Whole Building Design Guide

wheel diagram showing all the elements of building designThe Whole Building Design Guide has a web-based guide of design objectives for the built environment that includes universal design alongside and within other elements such as health, aesthetics, safety and security, and sustainability.
The Whole of Building Design is a program of the National Institute of Building Sciences based in Washington. This is a comprehensive guide covering all aspects of major building projects. The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access has contributed to the Guide. There are examples of how to apply the classic 7 principles and 8 Goals of universal design in the design process.

Banner for the design guide title



Neat ideas for the kitchen

The latest newsletter from Todd Brickhouse Associates includes some good kitchen design ideas. Scrolling down the page, you can see a picture of a pull-out table that nests neatly under the kitchen bench and over the storage drawers when not in use. Colour contrast is mentioned as an important feature. Another idea is a dual height island bench which has multi functional use. The newsletter includes other items that are probably more specific to north America and also some disability specific items.

Editor’s note: I included a pull-out workboard in my kitchen. It is at a height for sitting to prepare food, for a child to make a sandwich, and for stirring a large mixing bowl at a more convenient height for my arms and shoulders than the bench.


Dementia friendly homes

Front cover of UD Dementia Friendly homesWhile this set of guidelines is focused on Ireland, there are some good ideas that are not country specific. The online resource produced by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design is divided into separate downloadable sections: 

  1. Home location and approach
  2. Entering and moving around
  3. Spaces for living
  4. Elements and systems

The Design Guidelines complement Universal Design Guidelines for Homes in Ireland and are intended as a first step in raising awareness. They provide a flexible framework for designers to apply the guidelines creatively to all new home types through incremental steps. The Home Design Guidelines are informed by research, a literature review of national and international best practice and guidance and a consultation process with key stakeholders.  

Guy Luscombe has also tackled this topic and developed a toolkit for designers. He presented this work at the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference in 2016.


10 Stereotypes about accessible homes

Shows a living room with easy access to the verandaThere are several lists around that debunk myths about universal design. Lifemark in New Zealand has produced an excellent version related to housing. Their 10 stereotypes about accessible housing includes great examples of convenience for people who consider themselves to be without disability.  For example:

  • You break your leg during your holidays: what a joy to have a shower without having to go up the stairs!
  • You just have had a child: How practical it is to be able to easily enter the front door with the stroller or to help your children get into the car without scraping your car door on the walls of a narrow garage.
  • Dinner time! You have several glasses in your hands, how easy it will be to open the doors because they have lever door handles.
  • You have slept badly and have a terrible back pain: fortunately, your power points are high enough to avoid bending down too far.
  • You cook and have your hands wet or oily: lucky you! Your kitchen drawers are so easy to open!

The list includes examples of trendy fittings, dealing with steep sites, and the inevitable cruncher – busting the cost myth.

You can go to the Lifemark website to subscribe to their newsletter.  


Building Ministers to discuss accessible housing next meeting

There is some potentially good news on the topic of housing. After the last Building Ministers’ Forum in December, they circulated a communiqué that briefly outlined their discussions. Halfway through the short document was this statement: “Ministers discussed important issues relating to accessibility, including universal and accessible housing, and agreed to have further discussions on the costs and benefits of applying a minimum accessibility standard for private dwellings in Australia at the next BMF meeting.”

Front cover of the Landcom Universal Housing Design GuidelinesThe economics of accessible housing in Australia has been done at least twice, but that didn’t change anything. So it is not clear whether they will stall any decisions by saying they need more evidence or use the existing evidence. PD Hill in 1996 showed the economics of modifying and refitting a home added significantly to the costs of ageing in place, especially with government funded home modifications. Another economic study was done by Landcom (now UrbanGrowth) in 2008 and resulted in the Landcom Guidelines. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines are based on the Landcom Guidelines, which showed that if universal design features were included from the outset of the design (and not thought about at the end of the design process) it would be cost neutral in most cases, and perhaps an extra 1% of construction costs in difficult cases. Landcom’s analysis covered all dwelling types and showed that with some creative thinking, UD features could be included – it just required some extra thought.

And let us not forget the economic study by Smith, Rayer and Smith (2008 and 2011) that showed that any new home built today would have a 60% probability of having an occupant with a permanent disability, and a 91% probability of having a visitor with a disability. Two key sentences can be found in this study that have the potential to alter the perspective of planners and designers:

“Clearly, the probability of housing a disabled resident is substantially greater when measured over the lifetime of a housing unit than when measured at a single point in time.”

“Regardless of the specific assumptions used, however, two facts are beyond dispute: 1) The proportion of households with at least one disabled resident is substantially higher than the proportion of persons with disabilities, and 2) Most housing units are occupied by several households over their lifetimes.”

Editor’s note: You might like to consider contacting your state Building Minister (usually a title added to a planning minister or similar) to make sure they know the importance of universal design in housing for the upcoming meeting in Sydney in March 2017.


Universal Design in Housing: Are we there yet?

aerial view of a big city with skyscrapersThe short answer to this is no. We are nowhere near the promises made in the strategic plan that Livable Housing Australia was set up to deliver in 2010. This is because policy makers believed that the house-building industry could work together for change without regulations and standards. As the strategic plan was endorsed by COAG (Council of Australian Governments), it was assumed it would happen. Six years on and we have the NDIS, an ageing population and still no accessible housing aside from that which some local governments might demand from developers using existing planning laws.

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) has kept up their lobbying activities. Suggestions to turn the Livable Housing Design Guidelines into an Australian Standard to help local government apply the design features have been refused. Appeals to the Australian Building Codes Board to include basic access features in all new housing have met with the same response.

And now we have the Specialist Disability Accommodation program being rolled out to the tune of $700m a year. Is the house-building industry pricking up their ears now perhaps? Will the relevant State ministers with responsibility for the building code in their state start to realise something has to change? ANUHD is following the case closely and should know more after the relevant state ministers meet this week. It seems several State ministers are in favour of regulation for accessible housing “in principle”, but we shall see if this translates into anything more concrete.

Livable Housing Australia’s strategic plan sets out the path to achieve 100% of new homes to the Livable Housing Guidelines by 2020. It is worth being reminded that this was not supposed to be just a nice idea – it was supposed to happen for two reasons. To meet our commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, and to prepare for population ageing. Margaret Ward tells the story from ANUHD’s perspective