Kitchens and older people

3 pictures of kitchens used in the study. One shows a china cabinet, the next a step ladder and the third an ironing board More than any room in the house, the kitchen needs to be a place where tasks can be done easily and efficiently. Kitchens are also an important area for social interactions during meal preparation and clean up. As people age, more thought needs to go into kitchen design to overcome issues such as reaching, bending, grasping and holding. However, this should not mean a complete kitchen renovation if these issues are considered in the original kitchen design.

Kitchen Living in Later Life: Exploring Ergonomic Problems, Coping Strategies and Design Solutions is the result of research from different disciplines in the UK. As an academic paper there are some technical references, but the reports of the interviews with older people are quite revealing.  Reaching and bending caused the most problems, as well as grasping and lifting. Lighting was also an issue, especially for reading the small print on packaging. The article proposes solutions, some of them related to rearranging things for ease of use.

As kitchens in the UK include a washing machine (there are no separate laundry areas in the home) the research extended to laundry tasks. Ironing proved to be the most difficult. An interesting study, particularly as we can all relate to both good and bad kitchen design and fitout. This is especially the case with, say, a broken wrist, or slipped disc, which can happen to anyone at any time.

Related topics are kitchen appliances, and the work at the University of Cambridge Inclusive Design team and their online Inclusive Design Toolkit. 


Urban density: not the answer to everything

Picure of very high rise buildings on the waterfront at Dubai UAEWithout asking older people, politicians and planners make frequent calls for older Australians to give up their three bedroom homes to make way for “working families” and move into apartments. Regardless of a somewhat ageist inference that older people are “hogging all the houses”, with the political focus on working families, little room is left to discuss the housing needs of older cohorts. Research by Bruce Judd and his team at UNSW on downsizing found that the majority of older people want to stay put, not move into apartments. But there still remains the question, will these homes support them in their latter years? This is a discussion that the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has been chasing for many years, but with little political or market success. Within the older cohorts the number of people with dementia is expected to rise significantly, but not much thought has been given to their housing needs.

A newly published article, Housing and age friendly communities policies for future direction – A stepped approach puts the spotlight on this issue. Participants in the study were representatives from peak housing organisations, including strata managers, and advocacy organisations to assess how well their membership were prepared for this group. 

The article comes from the International Research Forum on Multi-owned Properties Deakin University, Melbourne 9-10th February 2017.

The picture was taken in Dubai, UAE.


Home modifications: improving housing stock

Michael Bleasdale of Home Modifications Australia presented a paper on home modifications at the universal design conference in Nagoya, Japan last December. With co-author Paul Smith from Foundations (UK) the paper aims to identify best practice in applying grant systems and funding models that successfully address the policy and budgetary challenges of enabling people to age in place. The title of the paper is, The contribution of home modifications to age-friendly communities: improving the current housing stock. With consumer-based funding models being established, services such as home modifications will be based on a market-based model rather than a social service model. See also the call for papers for the Home Modifications Conference 2017.

Editor’s note: While the authors mention the “percentage of newly built housing (around 2% in Australia, 220,00 dwellings in 2015)” as being a relatively small figure, it should be remembered that this is an annual figure. This means 200,000 dwellings a year becomes 2 million dwellings in ten years. If all new housing were built with basic access features suitable for most people, eventually we would no longer be creating homes that need government money to make them suitable for ageing in place, or at a minimum, make them visitable for people using mobility devices.

Picture: The picture shows a newly built home with steps to the front door. While the garage is providing level entry at the front, it has steps at the back for entry into the house. The front entry could have been made level with the garage. 


Designs for autonomy in later life

UD followers with an interest in housing design might find interesting “Adaptive environments for enabling senior citizens: An holistic assessment tool for housing design and IoT-based technologies”. The study asks the question, “Could houses and appliances have the potential to improve autonomy and quality of life of citizens?” The approach combines the design features of the dwelling with some basic assistive technologies to see how they can improve the autonomy of older people living at home. The research aims to support the creation of a new standard for housing in the European context. You will need institutional access for a free view, or you can  purchase it for a small fee. The authors are  based in Ireland and Italy.

Abstract: The population of older adults will continuously increase over the coming decades. As they get older, people will require assistance and regular monitoring, with higher costs for welfare system and families. Two vital aspects of a healthy lifestyle, are domestic autonomy and maintenance of relationships within the neighborhood. This leads to an interesting research issue: “Could houses and appliances have the potential to improve autonomy and quality of life of citizens? Which methods and tools could enhance wellbeing and healthy conditions? The house has the potential to be a safe, adaptive environment, integrated with technologies for life support. This work seeks to investigate the key implications of architectural accessibility, interior Design features and interactive technologies, related to User Experience Design. The proposed Design approach called “Environment Design to Sustain Users” is based on a scenario composed of two empirical strategies. The reported research aims to support the creation of a new standard of houses in which people can live in a healthy way, enjoying the opportunities of ICT, which shall be “enabling” and integrated in an unobtrusive way so as to be accepted by the user.

Architecture students’ attitudes to UD

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. (Ed Note: These phrases have been used many times by practicing architects and designers as followers of UD are aware.)

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design (as all such studies do) and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section might be of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. It was published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

See also previous work by Larkin et al, on this topic, and the 2016 UD Conference presentation by Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford, “Moving from the Margins: Embedding inclusive thinking in design education” 


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


UD in Australian Housing: The story so far

new home construction site with timber on the groundWith the announcement of Specialist Disability Accommodation funding, the state of housing design is once again being discussed. This funding is aimed towards individuals as part of the NDIS program to ensure participants have appropriate accommodation. The funding program will not in itself have any effect on changing mainstream practices. But with a large pool of money up for grabs, the housing industry is surely taking notice. Will this make a difference to their mainstream practices? On past behaviours, the answer is probably no. But governments are reluctant to impose regulations in spite of market failure to realise industry’s promise to deliver accessible mainstream housing in all new developments.

marg-ward-pptIn her presentation to the 2nd Australian Universal Design Conference, Margaret Ward gave an overview of all the lobbying  the Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has done over seven years. For anyone who doesn’t know the full story, or has little context for the advent of Livable Housing Design Guidelines, the transcript of Margaret’s presentation tells the full story.

On page 11 of the NIDS Price Guide the four different standards expected for the money are listed in a matrix: Improved Livability; Fully Accessible, Robust, and High Physical Support. Probably more meaningful labelling than Silver Gold and Platinum.