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.
Australian Network for Universal Housing Design put out a call for good examples of universal design in housing. They haven’t vetted them, but they have put them into three categories. This is because people also submitted projects related to retirement living and specialist disability accommodation. You can decide for yourself if they meet universal design principles. ANUHD advocates for mainstream homes to be to Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. The three categories are:
A survey of 4000 UK residents shows that most people (72%) want every new home to be accessible for people of all ages and level of ability. The survey was commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better. But there seem to be some contradictions. While 72% said this is a good idea, almost half the respondents said it wouldn’t make a difference to their decision to purchase a home. Only one third said it would make a difference. It looks like a case of “I’ll worry about it when the time comes”. Of course when the time comes it’s often too late. Few people plan for older age, chronic health conditions or disability when it comes to housing design.
Other information from the survey shows that almost two thirds of respondents don’t think their current home would be suitable to age in place, with nearly half actually worried about it. Centre for Better Ageing produced a press release with the survey information. There is another article on this topic on The Parliamentary Reviewwebsite.
Editor’s comment: The market mechanisms of demand and supply don’t apply in this situation where purchasing decisions are not always rational. In this situation the public purse has to pick up the fallout in terms of increased falls, longer hospital stays and aged care places.
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.
What gets in the way of building accessible housing?
How urgent is the problem?
What level of access is necessary?
ANUHD takes a disability rights approach and points out the National Disability Strategy should be a driving force for change and that the Livable Housing Design Guidelines Gold level is the best way to achieve our obligations to the National Disability Strategy and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. We all have a right to appropriate housing that is fit for purpose.
However, we can also take a universal design approach. The Livable Housing Design Guidelines mentioned in the Options Paper, take this approach. The Guidelines recognise that universal design features (accessible features) are just good design suited to everyone. It isn’t just about disability rights, it is also about home safety, productivity and economic gains for the community.
For more help on how to respond, see CUDA’s summary of the key points and a questionnaire with your comments that can be your submission, or part of your submission, to the Australian Building Codes Board. This is about our future homes and those of the ones we love.
The current standard design ideas for homes goes back more than a century. It’s time for a rethink on home design to suit the way we live our lives now is the claim in an article by Kirsty Voltz in The Conversation. Home designs are not keeping up with societal changes that include affordability, size of homes, accessibility across the lifespan, and designing so that as lives change, the interior of the home can adapt to suit. The risks are in not recognising the need to change and adapt to current circumstances, lifestyles, societal changes and personal aspirations. The article contains links to other references and concludes, “Existing housing stock is designed around the numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms that appeal to the market and so fails to be responsive to what people need from housing in the 21st century.” This includes the need for an update to the National Construction Code for creating homes that provide at least a basic level of accessibility for all. The picture is of the 3 bedroom home that Kirsty Voltz designed to fit in the space of an obsolete driveway.