What do government representatives think is the best way to supply homes suitable for people with disability? A research study by an occupational therapist and an architect found out. Mandating accessible features in all new mainstream housing is the way to go. That means both owners and renters would benefit. Plus it would suit ageing in place and not be detrimental to the rest of the population. One participant suggested that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines should be turned into an Australian Standard. That would also help guide home renovations. The research also looked at technology and support issues.
In the Results section of the article, authors Libby Callaway and Kate Tregloan summarise the participants comments about making all homes accessible:
“Several opportunities to take advantage of, and to stimulate, both accessible and adaptable housing supply and demand were identiﬁed through the focus group. Participant 5 stated, “This is a conversation about housing for people with disability, not disability housing”. Aiming to design and build homes that may also be rented on the open market or on-sold highlighted the need for suitable housing models beyond single houses. This need for a range of housing options, suitable for on-selling, has been identiﬁed in both current research and NDIS policy documents (Wiesel et al. 2015a; National Disability Insurance Agency 2016c). Roundtable participants recommended a legislative approach to increase accessible housing supply. They felt this would ensure an increase in volume via inclusion of accessible design principles and relevant standards within regulations for all buildings (e.g. via the Building Code of Australia) and other regulatory devices. This was seen to offer beneﬁts to people with disability as well as other community groups, such as ageing Australians who want to remain living at home. It was anticipated that a relatively low-cost impost would offer great community beneﬁt, depending on the level of requirement established (e.g. silver-level Livable Design compliance; Livable Housing Australia, 2012). Participants suggested this approach may offer greater ﬂexibility for any subsequent home modiﬁcations required for people with disability. Participant 7 summarised the need for further work in this area: “Making all housing accessible isn’t already a national level of discussion . . . Liveable Housing design can be taken over [and incorporated] into the Australian Standards”
There is much more to this study which includes inclusive communities, integrated technology and transportation.
Editor’s note: While such an approach will suit most people with disability, there are some people who will need a home designed or adapted around their particular needs and that of their carers. This is the role of the Specialist Disability Housing funded under the NDIS.
The tool has four steps: individual wants and issues; opportunities for improvement in the home and lifestyle: different options for maximising the use and value of the home; and other choices such as moving, sharing, home modifications and home support. This well researched tool is easily adapted from this New Zealand model.
Another research group has developed a prototype web application to use at home when needed, over time and at the user’s own pace. It consists of three modules Think, Learn and Act to facilitate awareness, offer information and knowledge and enable the user to decide and act on issues relating to housing. Topics are: preferences, the home, the neighbourhood, health status, social network and support, financial situation, the future, options for help and support and housing options.
A poor fit between the home and what older people need can lead to unnecessary care needs, loneliness, worse quality of life, increased caregiver time and early institutionalisation.
What home modifications are needed most and how much are they needed? Mary Ann Jackson analysed 50 home modification reports in Victoria to get an answer. The homes visited were built before any advocacy for accessible housing began. Consequently they all had a doorsill or step at the front door and tight spaces. This was further complicated with a screen door. Meter boxes also intruded on entry space. Many of the fittings, such as taps and handles were poorly designed to suit ageing in place. Jackson advises that accessibility issues are endemic to Australia’s existing housing stock. This is a big problem when 39.5% of households include a person with disability. If it is too expensive for governments or individuals to finance the required renovations, we will need another approach. Let’s hope the Regulatory Impact Statement due next year supports accessible design in all new homes.
Architect and Planner Jackson says, “Cooperation, collaboration, and a clear recognition of the emotional, physical, and economic cost-benefit of ageing in place will be needed to rebuild Australia’s housing stock to better accommodate all inhabitants throughout life.” The title of the newsletter article is Ageing in place – are we there yet?
The picture above is famous for its technical compliance, but not usability, and definitely not aesthetics.
A research paper from Colorado State University brings together all the elements for successful ageing in place – universal design in housing, walkable and wheelable communities and a discussion on home and place, and what it means for residents. It shows how simply providing infrastructure is insufficient to support population ageing. While the situation is a little different in the US, the research supports Australian studies and the advocacy for universal design in housing. However, the recommendation for market incentives in terms of certification has not worked in Australia, save for the specialised homes specifically for people with disability. It is a similar situation in New Zealand. It has not produced mainstream uptake of accessible housing.
The tile of the report is, Colorado Lifelong Homes: A review of barriers and solutions for aging in place.
Abstract: Colorado’s aging population is growing, yet our housing options are not evolving to support this population. The need for housing that accommodates older adults as they age is crucial to balancing demands on other services, such as assisted living facilities, and to support successful and healthy aging. Most homes in our state are not built using principles of universal design that support successful aging in place. The outcomes of community and industry engagement activities show that advocating for lifelong housing is a critical step to help advance age-friendly housing in the state of Colorado. This paper summarizes key research and industry trends related to lifelong homes, the barriers in the marketplace, and the key qualities of lifelong homes. Based on this research, we present a path forward for advancing affordable, healthy, and safe home options for our growing population of older adults in Colorado and beyond.
It’s often said that universally designed dwellings need extra space. Designing accessible studio units puts that myth to bed. A project consisting of four modest, high-quality dwellings are designed to adapt as the needs of the occupants change. According to Studio Bright, the units are designed to accommodate Gold Livable Housing standards. The second living or study space can be closed-off to become a second bedroom for a caregiver or visitor. This project aims to help women out of the private rental market into a home of their own.
Other desirable design features are not forsaken in this universal design approach. Each unit is designed to catch natural light and is set in thoughtful landscaping. The four required car parking spaces are flexible areas for communal outdoor space. Fruit treas and other plantings help foster a sense of community. The L-shaped units can be arranged in different ways, which means this model can be rolled out on other sites.
The UK television program Grand Designs hosted by Kevin McCloud rarely shows any home that has accessible elements unless it is specifically for a client with a disability. On the Grand Designs Facebook page, McCloud visits a kitchen that almost anyone would admire. He wheels himself around the kitchen with the owner and shows some fascination with the design. The owner said, “It’s the environment that makes you feel disabled”. A fair call. Have a look at the features and see what you think.
There is a longer newspaper article that provides more detail. However, all does not end well. Apparently the owner and his wife decided to separate. Consequently, another newspaper article has the home for sale a month after it was completed. But this one has lots of pictures. It just looks like a spacious home with nothing “disabled” about it.
The real issue is that wheelchair users are left with no choice but to build to their own specifications because there is nothing available on the market that will remotely match their requirements. That is, if they can afford it. The last article on the sale also shows how building a new home is no easy road and takes it toll on relationships. That’s regardless of any kind of ability or disability.
Environments that include older people include everyone else too. So it’s good to ask older people what works for them. The findings from a Helsinki study indicate that neighbourhood design, public transport and green environments influence mobility and social integration. Mainstream housing design is a key factor in supporting older people to stay within their communities.
The title of the dissertation by Ira Verma is, Housing Design for All? The challenges of ageing in urban planning and housing design – The case of Helsinki. The abstract summarises the findings well.
From the abstract: The results indicate that the neighbourhood design, public transport network and proximity of green environments influence mobility and the sense of integration within a community. Moreover, the length of residency was related to the familiarity of the living environment, which gave residents a sense of security, and supported their activities of daily life. Furthermore, the results show that older residents preferred the local services that were the most accessible ones.
Comprehensive design and a versatile environment with various activities may promote Ageing in Place policies and enhance cross-generational social encounters. Moreover, many obstacles caused by reduced physical and sensory functioning capacities can be lessened by applying Universal Design of the built environment. Architects and urban planners have a major role in designing the city and ensuring that it does not exclude any resident groups. Mainstream housing developments with attention to a variety of resident groups will enhance living at home at old age. Moreover, frail people with high care needs should experience being part of community life. Collaboration with local service providers, schools, cafés and restaurants may enable to providing a variety of activities to the residents in sheltered housing.
The Housing Industry Association website has a page tucked away titled, Aesthetically Accessible. It shows how designing and constructing a bathroom can be “accessible to people of all abilities and ages”. And it is becoming much easier, “with more beautiful results than ever”. The key points for accessibility are discussed in the article with lots of pictures. Livable Housing Design Guidelines are mentioned, and so they should. HIA was one of the stakeholders in the development of the Guidelines. However, this is only one page relating to accessibility. More recent news on bathrooms returns to the regular design ideas and the importance of fashion trends and style inspiration without reference to the Guidelines. Universal design and inspired style are compatible – they are not mutually exclusive.
Editor’s comment: At the recent access consultants’ conference, the Chair of of LHA, Alex Waldron, said that LHA maintains its stance on voluntary adoption of the guidelines. This leads to the conclusion that they will not be supporting changes to the National Construction Code proposed by the Australian Building Codes Board.
The international Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disability asked Australia some important questions about accessible housing. The answers depend on who you ask. The Australian Government indicated it was doing OK. Australian Human Rights Commission said a lot more needed to be done, including regulation. The Australian Civil Society Report, which provides the perspective of people with disability, said aspirational targets by industry haven’t worked, so it has to be mandated.
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.