A culturally-ingrained habit of confirmation bias might be one of the reasons we still don’t have universal design in mass market housing. “This is the way it’s been done in the past, and no one’s been sued, therefore we will stick to this”. This quote from a stakeholder in an article by The Fifth Estate might be why the house building industry is missing the big picture. The article is based on research by Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute where they looked at the question of social housing being treated as infrastructure in the same way as transport. But should it be treated as infrastructure or continue to be treated as welfare? According to the article, the most popular form of evidence used was feedback from previous projects: which implies that the practitioners tended not to look outside of their comfort zone. That’s how confirmation bias begins especially when the building industry claims that research is too hard to understand.
Economic arguments are often seen as the most persuasive way to change the design of mass market homes. Research papers over several years have produced solid economic arguments for universal design, but they have failed in their quest. So the issues are beyond those of economics. Regardless, for those who want the research, here is a list of papers, including the cost effectiveness of home modifications (or not needing them in the first place). This is not an exhaustive list, but gives and idea of what work has been done.
The cost of NOT including accessibility in new homes This landmark article by Smith, Rayer and Smith (2008) uses complex economic methodologies to show that a new home built today has a 65% likelihood of having an occupant with a permanent disability. It is often forgotten that people with disability live in families – not alone.
A cost benefit analysis of adaptable homes by urban economist Martin Hill of Hill PDA. This conference paper was written in 1999 and shows how long these arguments have been running. The context is adaptable housing – the forerunner of universal design concepts in housing. It was prepared for the NSW Department of Urban Affairs and Planning.
People want to stay put as they age. That means housing design is critical in supporting this desire, as well as ageing-in-place policies. A new study from New Zealand looked at issues of appropriate housing for older people, and how people and communities can develop resilience to adverse natural events. The findings relate to ageing societies across the globe and within the context of changing environmental conditions. The decision tools that researchers devised from this participatory research are useful for older people and for architects and other designers.
ABSTRACT: Our ageing populations make it critical that older people continue to live and participate in their communities. ‘Ageing in place’, rather than in residential care, is desired by older people themselves and promoted as policy in many countries. Its success, both as policy and practice, depends on housing. House performance, resilience, functionality and adaptability are all essential to maintaining independence. Three New Zealand research programmes have worked with older people to investigate issues around housing, ‘ageing in place’ and how older people and communities can become resilient to adverse natural events. Using participatory research techniques, those programmes have generated evidence-based decision-support tools to help older people maintain independence. These tools have been co-designed and widely tested with older people and others. Designed to help older people identify priorities and information requirements, assess diverse factors determining thermal performance and dwelling resilience as well as repairs and maintenance needs, the tools help improve decisions around: repairs and maintenance assessment and solutions; dwelling and location choices and housing options. Various organizations have adopted the tools. This work demonstrates how research outputs can be used to facilitate older people’s housing choices while also giving architects and designers guides for meeting older people’s housing needs.
Assessing an existing home for its level of dementia-friendliness is made easier with a new App called IRIDIS. It was devised by researchers at Sterling University. Most people think dementia is about memory loss, but this is only part of the story. Visual perception is a major factor in getting out and about and around the home. Colour contrasts and lighting become more important for people with dementia along with any other health conditions they might have. An article from UK on Homecare.co.uk webpage has more. The IRIDIS App can be found on Google Play and Apple Store. It is useful for family members and professionals alike.
Last year the Australian Building Codes Board released an Options Paper on Accessible Housing for comment. They have collated the information from the 179 submissions and produced a report. The 121 page report does not have recommendations about accessible housing. Rather, it leaves this to governments. The document identifies factors to shape the next stage of the project, the Regulation Impact Statement. The Executive Summary lists some of the key issues raised in the submissions:
There is a need to consider aligning the project objectives to the concepts of equity and independence, and consideration of the principles of universal design. Previous government commitments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability and the COAG National Disability Strategy, were generally interpreted as commitments to regulate accessible housing. The prevalence of households with an occupant with a disability and the future impact of the population ageing need to be properly taken into account in establishing the need for regulation of accessible housing. Consideration should be given to the application of accessible housing provisions on difficult sites, where local planning policies may also impact upon the feasibility of an access standard applied to housing. Consideration should be given to residential tenancies legislation that may be restricting some groups from obtaining suitable housing or modifying rental housing to improve its accessibility. The importance of a step-free path to the dwelling entry door, and conversely, the practical difficulties associated with mandating such a feature in 100 per cent of circumstances. Whether or not features that are more difficult to retrofit — generally referred to as ‘structural features’ — should be prioritised in the design of possible NCC changes. Qualitative, or intangible, benefits should be identified and given due consideration in the RIS, as well as ensuring that it goes beyond consideration of people with a disability. Generally, stakeholders suggested that such benefits include reduced social isolation, and increased community participation and inclusion. It is important that costs are accurately quantified and the distribution of costs and regulatory burdens between industry and consumers is clearly identified. Although outside the scope of the NCC, non-regulatory options — including financial incentives and the further development and promotion of voluntary guidelines — should still be assessed against regulatory options and considered by governments.
A New Zealand report on the value of including universal design in all new homes claims that it is more costly not to incorporate these features. It found that for $500 the design of most new builds could incorporate these user-friendly features. However, some designs could cost up to $8000, if they needed major changes, but costs could be avoided if the redesign was configured within the current footprint. The costings are for both materials and labour.
Their analysis was for the whole population because there are cost advantages for including UD features from the outset in all new homes. Today’s new house has a high likelihood of being occupied by a family that has disability or ageing present. This is in line with the landmark study by Smith, Rayer and Smith in 2008.
While this report does not quantify any cost savings to health budgets, it points out that there are savings to be made. For example, each fall at home has an average medical cost of more than $1000. Even if only 10% of falls were reduced, this would be a saving of $27m per year. These and other saved care costs further justify the requirement to have UD features in all new homes.
This is a very comprehensive report with cost calculations based on existing floor plans for new homes. They use the term User-Friendly in their reporting as this captures the concept that the features are beneficial for everyone.
Urban designers can be champions for improvements for population ageing. That is a key theme in an article that proposes ways for helping older people stay put in their home, and if not, in their community. The article discusses current innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive both physically and socially. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations.
The title of the article is, “Improving housing and neighborhoods for the vulnerable: older people, small households, urban design, and planning”. You will need institutional access for a free read from SpringerLink. Or you can access via ResearchGateand request a copy of the article.
Abstract: The number of older people who need help with daily tasks will increase during the next century. Currently preferences and policies aim to help older people to stay in their existing homes, to age in place, even as they become less able to care for themselves and, increasingly, live alone. However, the majority of homes in the U.S. and many other countries are not designed to support advanced old age or are not located to easily provide support and services. The paper explores the needs of older people experiencing frailty. It examines the existing range of innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive, physically, socially, and in terms of services. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing smallscale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations. Some will allow people to remain in their current dwelling but others focus on people remaining in a local community. Few are widely available at present. Urban designers can more fully engage with the multiple challenges of those who have physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments and living in solo households by becoming champions for a more comprehensive set of public realm improvements and linkages.
Housing for Life: Designed for Living was developed for the South Australian Government with an emphasis on population ageing and supporting active ageing policies. The reportdocuments the features and factors that older people themselves identified as important as well as industry perspectives. It also outlines the economic arguments for considering the housing needs of older people. Examples of floor plans are included. The key principles identified through the co-design process are:
Choice: Older people want to have choices about how they live, and scope to personalise their homes. Quality: It is better to invest in quality fixtures and fittings now for better efficiency and maintenance in the long term. Wellbeing: Wellbeing is a direct result of connectedness with community and home. Design: The concept of passive and flexible design that adapts to people’s changing requirements, needs to be central to new Housing SA builds. Cost: Older people prefer smart investment and the ability to personalise their homes, to ensure cost efficiencies are retained, but without sacrificing good design. Smart: The integration of smart technology and renewable energy ensures these homes stand the test of time and remain affordable. Access: Proximity to transport, services and the community is fundamental to living and ageing well, as are neighbourhoods that are easy to get around and foster active travel choices.
The report concludes: “There is significant economic opportunity to be gained by addressing housing, social and ageing related needs through innovative design. > Technology has a critical role to play in meeting unmet needs for independent living, connected living and well-designed housing. > Older people are an extremely diverse group and no single design will meet all needs. Age friendly housing options should be as diverse as the people who will live in them. However, there are core principles that apply across this population group and from these, flexible design can be developed. > Co-design between the housing sector and end-users is essential for accurate and relevant design. > Quality design and product are highly valued and of equal importance to design features that address ageing-related challenges. > Features that are valued in age friendly housing and neighbourhood design are energy efficiency, natural lighting, connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, walkability, proximity to transport and services, connection to community balanced with privacy and security, and capacity for personalisation.”
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has a comprehensive set of guidelines for creating dementia friendly dwellings, both new and existing. They have also published the extensive research that underpins the guidelines. Although the resource has a focus on conditions in Ireland, there is good information for everyone. It includes useful examples and design checklists. The key point is that dementia friendly dwellings are not exclusive – taking a universal design approach means that anyone can live in them.
Apart from some of the other issues of ageing (although dementia can be experienced at any age), here are some of the key factors that need to be considered in the design:
● Impaired rational thinking, judgement, and problem-solving. ● Difficulty with memory (initially short-term but progressing over time to long-term memory difficulties). ● Problems learning new things. ● Increasing dependence on the senses. ● Fear anxiety and increased sensitivity to the built and psycho-social environment.