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.
The Australian Association of Gerontology (AAG) calls for regulation of universal design features in all new housing. Their position paperadvises that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Gold Level specifications should be the minimum requirement. The paper explains how it will assist ageing in place strategies and allow people to age at home for longer. Population ageing statistics and the types of health conditions experienced by older Australians are also included. Vision loss and arthritis are the most common conditions together with back problems and osteoporosis. As people age, they are likely to experience multiple health conditions. The appendix lists the performance statements of 16 recommended design elements. In summary, AAG supports the Livable Housing Australia statement that a universally designed home should:
Be easy to enter; be easy to move in and around; be capapble of easy and cost-effective adaptation, and be design to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of home occupants.
An article on an American home builder’s website has some good information and dispels many myths. The one about “ugly and costly” is dealt with well. While they are American designs, the principles apply elsewhere. The title of the article is, How Great Aging in Place Design Prepares you for a Llifetime. There are lots of examples on the website of kitchens and bathrooms. There is also a section titled Universal Design.
Editor’s comment: Few older people will use a wheelchair at home, but they might like to sit to do some tasks. So the idea of lower benches could be a mistake unless you know all home occupants are either of short stature or wheelchair users. All family members have to be catered for in a workplace such as the kitchen. Lower bench sections or adjustable height benches help here. A pull-out workboard in the drawer section of the cabinetry is also another way to provide a low workspace for children and others who might need it. Also, in Australia and elsewhere, few homes have the kind of space shown in the pictures to allocate to a kitchen, so designs need to be considerate of all likely kitchen users. Creativity is required. Lowering benches and not having under bench cupboards is the easy solution.
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.