4 Myths of Home Accessibility

Picture of a paintbrush and chisel acting as handles on cupboard doorsDeborah Pierce writes that any construction project is a daunting endeavour, but illness and injury complicate everything. Ageing can be full of surprises, but asking others what to do can cause confusion when everyone has different advice. Also there are a lot of myths floating around and she addresses these well in the article:

  • Myth 1: Accessible equals institutional
  • Myth 2: Accessibility is expensive
  • Myth 3: Accessibility takes up space
  • Myth 4: Access upgrades detract from re-sale value

The article is by Deborah Pierce on www.abilities.com. It includes design ideas and includes informative pictures.

Picture shows a paintbrush and a chisel being used as cupboard handles. Good for people needing extra grip, but maybe confusing for someone with dementia – editor.


Small but accessible homes

Floor plan for a 52 sqm homeDeborah Pierce has written a great book on accessible homes. It is an American publication with an emphasis on wheelchair users, but the ideas are useful for anyone trying to re-think how they design homes to be more inclusively designed. Also good for anyone planning renovations in preparation for later years. One of the myths is that small can’t be accessible. Deborah puts this to rest with this 52 square metre design shown in the diagram. She notes that because ramps take up more space than steps, the assumption is that everything has to be bigger. Not having a ramp is of course part of the solution, but so is minimising corridor and hall spaces and having fitted storage and furniture where possible.

Deborah is featured on the Abilities.com website where there are otheFront cover of the book The Accessible Homer useful resources.   You can find out more about Deborah and her book, which has many ideas and pictures.


Bathroom design with dementia in mind

hewi dementia bathroomDr. Birgit Dietz explains the background thoughts in the development of the age and dementia-sensitive washbasin, which she designed together with HEWI. She is a visiting lecturer in the Hospital and Health Sector Building department of Munich’s Technical University and has her own architectural firm in Bamberg.

Dietz claims that qualitative studies show that the colour red is most easily perceived by people with dementia. Red is also the most easily registered colour for people with age-related vision impairment or inoperable eye diseases, for example, macular degeneration. The dementia washbasin is therefore also suitable for people with low vision. Go to the Hewi webpage for more designs.

Inclusive Housing – a pattern book

Steinfeld Inclusive Design and UrbanismProf Ed Steinfeld’s keynote address at the ACAA/UD Conference in Melbourne included an outline of the rationale for his inclusive housing pattern book. The book covers both home and urban design elements as well as architectural elements. He argued that in the same way that we transitioned from barrier-free to accessibility, we now need to move to more inclusive and universally designed built forms.  Download the PDF of his presentation here. (2.5 MB)

UN-Habitat – Accessibility of Housing

Accessibility-of-Housing-280x400This publication, A Handbook of Inclusive Affordable Housing Solutions for Persons with Disabilities and Older Persons, is part of the activities of the Global Network for Sustainable Housing (GNSH) managed by the UN-Habitat Housing Unit. The handbook presents practical solutions to outgrow accessibility barriers for persons with disabilities and older persons in the contexts of slum upgrading, reconstruction, large-scale affordable and social housing programmes. 

This handbook aims to bridge the existing gap between the needs and rights of persons with disabilities and older persons with slum upgrading, reconstruction, large-scale affordable and social housing programmes. Through the provision of concepts, major policy approaches, practical information and technical tools, the handbook intends to build capacity regarding designing and implementing accessibility in identified contexts. Likewise, it brings into light the implication and the global importance of developing accessibility of sustainable human settlements.

NSW Apartment Design Guide

NSW Apartment Design Guide coverThe NSW Department of Planning has published a new Apartment Design Guide. It includes a small section on universal design. On page 118 it defines universal design as, “… an international design philosophy that enables people to continue living in the same home by ensuring that apartments are able to change with the needs of the occupants. Universally designed apartments are safer and easier to enter, move around and live in. They benefit all members of the community, from young families to older people, their visitors, as well as those with permanent or temporary disabilities.” While the definition implies that universal design only applies to housing design, it is a good step forward as it allows councils to request developers to include UD features.

In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability), but continues the reference to a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently this becomes specialised housing which is what universal design is seeking to eliminate in mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard also continues to be referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code. 

Keeping the ‘home’ in home modifications

a blue glowing house icon is held in the handsMaking a home accessible is often associated with making it look institutional. No-one wants that. And there is no need for it either. But when a person needs specific modifications to enable independence, experience and advice from an occupational therapist is often called for. The video below shows the benefits of involving an occupational therapist (OT) in designing a home for specific disabilities. First hand stories explain the importance of all design features. The emphasis for the clients is on keeping the sense of ‘my home’ in the design. These case studies are based on money being available for a new build or extensive rebuild, but not everyone will have that luxury. Consequently, we must still consider basic access features in all new and extensively modified homes. 

Video courtesy Liz Ainsworth

Think about the windows

Guy Luscombe cover picArchitect Guy Luscombe recently returned from a study trip in Europe focusing on living arrangements for older people.  His comprehensive report featuring case studies from Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark and Netherlands, reveals eight key design features important to older people.  He says, “The traditional ‘nursing home’ and ‘retirement village’ are not only outdated, they can actually foster separation and ‘otherness’, isolating people from their family, friends and interests. The aim of this project is to explore how architects can design better environments for older people that improve their enjoyment of life. It starts with rethinking some of our design language.” Many in the universal design movement would agree with this.

Download Guy Luscombe’s report 

Go to the Radio National Life Matters link featuring Guy’s work


The House that Chris Built – his story

Chris Nicholls houseThe House that Chris Built: Chris Nicholls discusses the design and construction of his family home from the perspective of a wheelchair user.  He outlines some of the problems with applying standards such as AS1428 in homes and explains why some design features, which are often referred to as disability features, are not necessarily needed by every wheelchair user or person with a disability. He also explains which features were important and why. The slideshow presentation has many instructive photographs.  You can also download the transcript of his presentation: 

Chris Nicholls Transcript Word    Chris Nicholls Transcript PDF  

NSW Building Design Requirements

Logo for NSW Land and Housing CorporationThe NSW  Land and Housing Corporation has updated their Building Design and Product Requirements. and Design Standards. 

The Design Standards establish the standards that all new housing and major refurbishments of existing NSW Land and Housing Corporation housing stock must meet. The document may be taken as performance and functional guidance rather than prescriptive requirements for:

  • Projects undertaken by the affordable housing or community housing sector which are mainly privately funded, or
  • Aboriginal Housing Office projects.

The Design Standards include five non-negotiable Design Principles and the Design Features emphasise:

  • Liveable Housing Design
  • Functionality
  • Flexibility
  • Sustainability and
  • Innovation