ABCB Livable Housing Standard

The new Livable Housing Design Standard has just been released after much deliberation on the fine details.

The standard applies to all Class 1a and Class 2 buildings from 1 October 2023. Class 1a buildings are detached houses, row houses, terraces, townhouses and villa units.

Class 2 buildings are apartment buildings. The livable housing design requirements will only apply inside the apartments. The existing requirements for common areas will apply based on the Access to Premises Standard.

Front cover of the Livable Housing Design Standard showing a single storey home with garage.

Extensions and major renovations to existing homes will be based on state or territory requirements to comply with the standard. For example, if the works require a council development application.

Although this is a national standard in the National Construction Code, NSW and WA are yet to adopt the standard into their respective building codes. Given that industry likes consistency, it is likely that some elements will eventually cross borders into NSW and WA. Meanwhile residents of those states will be missing out.

You can download a copy of the Livable Housing Design Standard from the Australian Building Codes Board website.

The new standard is based on the Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. If you are new to the ideas, this is a good place to start – it provides a good overview.

Inclusive mobility – a guide

The UK Government has updated their 2002 Inclusive Mobility guide. The update comes from seeking the views of people with disability, representative groups and practitioners. The principles underpinning the guide remain the same in this 2021 document.

The guidance covers features compatible with creating an inclusive environment. Pedestrians include people using all types of mobility aids that are meant for use on footpaths. The guide is focused on people with disability, but many others benefit too. Parents with small children, people carrying or wheeling heavy shopping, people with a leg in plaster, and many older people.

“The research for the guide included the needs of people with mental health conditions, dementia, age-related and non-visible impairments.”

A wet wintery street scene in London showing a line of mid-rise buildings and shops.

The overall aim of the guide is to enable practitioners to create a universally designed public realm, and through that, social inclusion. The document is useful for anyone designing and installing public realm improvements and new infrastructure.

To begin with…

The guide advises practitioners to consider all pedestrians from the outset of the design. This includes any transport or pedestrian infrastructure and planned maintenance. Any conflicts arising between the needs of different disability groups can be resolved by including them in the design process.

“Engagement should continue throughout a project, contribute to the design, and might include user tests and trials.”

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this picture

People with non-visible impairments also find uneven surfaces, crossing the road, navigating slopes and ramps difficult. Hence they are less likely to make the journey. These users benefit from pedestrian environments that are simpler, with distinct features and provision of clear information. Being confident in knowing where you are going is an essential part of feeling welcome in the public domain.

Human Factors

The introduction to the guide covers basic human requirements for ease of movement. This includes generous allocations of circulation space for people using mobility devices, or pushing baby strollers. Taking a universal design approach will generally suit most people. However, some people need specific designs. A deafblind person needs to know when they have the green walk sign and assistive technology comes into play here.

The guide is mainly concerned with people with mobility, vision, hearing, dexterity and reaching, and cognitive conditions. It discusses these in detail so that practitioners can grasp the full range of human diversity.

Footways, pedestrian crossings, changes in level, tactile paving, car parking, bus and tram stops, taxi ranks and transport buildings are all covered. The section on the use of digital transport is important as many information services are either web or kiosk based.

The title of the guide is, Inclusive Mobility: A Guide to Best Practice on Access to Pedestrian and Transport Infrastructure. The guide also reminds practitioners that they have legal obligations to comply with any disability discrimination legislation and related standards.

Accessible and adaptable home renovation

Sanctuary magazine has a Design Workshop section where people can apply to have their home design project workshopped by professionals. Architect Mary Ann Jackson comments on the planned renovation of a home for a family of four.

The brief is to renovate without overcapitalising, incorporate accessibility for the long term, improve layout, focus on energy efficiency and to consider acoustics.

Image of the original 1970s home

The existing home discussed in the Sanctuary magazine article. It shows a 1970s two-storey home.

The house is spacious enough but it doesn’t function well. One family member is hard of hearing so large open plan with hard surfaces is challenging. After investigating the option of a knock-down-rebuild, the homeowners, Eric and Caroline, decided to make the most of what they have.

Eric and Caroline engaged a designer who came up with a solution for most of their requirements. The article shows the existing floor plan and the proposed floor plan. Mary Ann critiques the plan from an accessibility perspective. As she says, if it is not accessible, it is not sustainable. So considering accessibility from the outset is worthwhile.

Congested space is the enemy of accessibility and having several small separate wet area rooms eats up valuable space. The walls and fittings take up space in each of these areas. Mary Ann advises at least one larger family bathroom for this family house. She goes on to discuss paths of travel and circulation space and offers improvements by moving some of the rooms around.

The kitchen is next with suggestions for work surfaces at different levels and drawers for under-bench storage. Mary Ann then moves on to the balcony and outdoor areas, explaining her reasoning along the way. The article has much more detail and is worth a read for anyone designing a home renovation.

A universal design approach

“Designing for adaptation in the future is important, and properly executed universal design facilitates multi-generational living”.

A man in a bright yellow T shirt is painting and archway in a wall inside a home. The wall is grey and there are tools on the floor. Articles on home modifications.

The article is in the Sanctuary magazine Design Workshop series, and is titled An accessible, adaptable upgrade. The article concludes with Mary Ann’s alternative design based on her assessment of the property and the family requirements. A really good example of universal design thinking coupled with cost effective energy efficiency.

See also the Livable Housing Design Guidelines for additional ideas. Many of these ideas are in the upcoming changes to the National Construction Code. It will be known as the Livable Housing Standard.

Walking and wheeling in the neighbourhood

Being free to move around and get out and about helps build and strengthen connections to place and people. Mobility and participation are closely linked and together they improve our sense of wellbeing and belonging. It’s about having choice and control and being able to easily go walking and wheeling in the neighbourhood.

Absent or poorly maintained footpaths, lack of safe crossings, unsafe road speeds, competing with cars, poorly lit streets, and nowhere to rest, prevent people from getting out and about.

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting. Going beyond minimum standards.

An article in The Fifth Estate argues it’s time to stop designing our streets for cars and start to design for the diversity of people. The article is by Lisa Stafford’s and her work on planning and justice. She lists some must-dos for walkable wheelable neighbourhoods:

  • footpaths are essential infrastructure in the same way as stormwater in neighbourhood development
  • confront ableism and plan and design for our diversity
  • embed inclusive design thinking in the system and day-to-day practice
  • integrate planning well: we know universal design and sustainable smart growth approaches work seamlessly together 
  • utilise inclusive urban design codes to promote mobility equity, wellbeing, connectivity, and accessibility
  • active and public transport infrastructure advocacy must include the perspective of all users
  • Queensland Walks and Victoria Walks are good examples of public policy.

As Lisa Stafford says, we have the technical resources, good examples and the skills to do this. It is attitude that is holding us back.

The title of the article is What do truly walkable, wheelable neighbourhoods look like? It is part of The Fifth Estate’s Spinifex collection.

Home renovations American style

Home renovations and modifications for ageing in place is big business in the United States. The latest issue of Designs 4 Living is focused on home modifications and the “forever” home. Four contributors provide their design ideas on home renovations American style.

Architect Aaron D Murphy asks, Do you have “Stay at Home” Insurance? He means “can you ensure you can stay longer in your own home?” Fearing loss of independence is no reason to do nothing until it’s too late. Murphy emphasises that universal design is good for everyone and not about “hospital parts”.

Designs for Living front cover showing the Fairmont Hotel in Quebec, Canada covered in a dusting of snow.

The title of Karen Koch’s article is “ADA is HOOEY”. Similarly to the Australian standard for public bathrooms, the ADA is not suited to residential settings. Occupational therapist Koch provides good tips, and uses photos to explain the importance of colour contrast for ageing eyes. However, these photos have lots of grab rails and “hospital parts”. A key tip is not to mount grab bars diagonally because that requires grip strength rather than arm and shoulder strength.

Robert May talks about indoor air quality and how he learned the value of clean air. The pandemic caused him to reconsider his scepticism and learn more about it. He says, “What I learned is that if you are not filtering your air then you yourself are the filter”. May goes on to talk about different products.

Jennifer Rossetti and Todd Brickhouse look at robots and the role they can play in our lives. Some already perform everyday tasks, but the interest is in companion robots. The focus of companion robots is on older people, although there is no reason they should be age specific. However, developers are looking for replacement caregivers in residential aged care.

Read Designs 4 Living on Flipsnack.

AHURI report on retirement villages

When older people feel they cannot live safely and comfortably in their current home, and the family is worried about them too, a retirement village seems like a good option. But all is not what it seems on the surface. A new AHURI report on retirement villages reviews the situation.

Retirement village advertising espouses “lifestyle living” and the perfect place to spend our later life. However, the disadvantages are often only discovered after entry to the village.

Image from the Aged Care Guide.

Two white couples in early retirement years are lunching outdoors and clinking their wine glasses. They look like they are having fun.

Retirement villages are home to approximately 5.7 percent of the population aged more than 65 years. This is projected to increase to 7.5 percent by 2025. This is largely a for-profit industry and it’s highly competitive. The costs involved mean that only wealthy older people have the opportunity to make this their housing choice.

One of the findings in the AHURI report is that prospective residents prefer to take advice from family instead of heeding legal advice about the risks.

Image from Choice.com.au

A row of villas in a retirement village.

The title of the report is, Business models, consumer experiences and regulation of retirement villages. It looks at the advantages and disadvantages for both consumers and government. The executive summary is a good place to start.

For consumers, the attraction of joining a community and forming friendships is offset by mis-selling and unfair buy-back arrangements. For government, the retirement village sector provides the health care budget with significant savings. This is because entry to residential aged care is delayed.

Entry to the aged care system can also be delayed by building our homes with universal design features. Fortunately Australia is taking steps in the right direction with the changes to the National Construction Code and the new Livable Housing Standard.

From the executive summary

The strongest attractor was belonging to a community based on informal friendships. Negative aspects included being subject to ageism through the perception of segregation from younger age groups.

Prospective retirement village consumers who take legal advice and are warned about the risks don’t always check out these risks. They prefer to take advice from family.

The business model is not well understood by policy makers as well as consumers. There is only one model – deferred management fees known as exit fees. Residents enter at a reduced price and pay on exit.

Governments are happy for the sector to grow without financial support and this is unlikely to change. Financial support should go to supporting lower income and vulnerable groups through home care packages rather than subsidising wealthier home owners to live in villages.

The report recommends building standards that ensure retirement village operators are responsible for providing accessible, universally designed residences and facilities. Many older villages have units that are inaccessible once the resident develops a mobility impairment.

Wayfinding signage manual

University campuses have much in common, including the likelihood of getting lost and disorientated. This is largely due to the way each campus evolves with new buildings placed wherever land is available. That makes architectural wayfinding strategies impossible to follow. So if a university campus can come up with a good way of orientating people, it should be good for other situations.

There are a large number of buildings present on Edith Cowan University campuses which cannot be changed to accommodate intuitive, architectural wayfinding practices.

Edith Cowan University access and mobility map.

Wayfinding is essential for helping people to get out and about. Getting lost is not just inconvenient, it is stressful – especially if it causes a late arrival. The Wayfinding Signage Manual for Edith Cowan University outlines how and where signs should be used, designed and built. It is a technical document with a destination hierarchy, application strategy and graphic standards. An access and mobility map and an active transport map are also included.

Wayfinding and signage for walkers

The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads also has a guide for people walking. This is another technical document offering specific guidance to wayfinding professionals. While walkers (and wheelers) have specific requirements they need to be woven into signage for cyclists. Well-designed wayfinding and signage encourages people to walk using routes that are safe.

People walking have specific wayfinding needs different from those riding bikes or motorists.

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkway

The guide for people walking has a section on accessibility and lists several design elements to support accessible wayfinding signage. The wayfinding manual developed by the Cooperative Research Centre is referenced in this document. Although it was researched and developed in 2007 it remains an excellent reference.

Getting around QUT

Similarly to Edith Cowan University, the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has a wayfinding signage manual. This rather lengthy document is also technical and was published in 2022. It begins with a wayfinding masterplan, signage principles and accessibility. It’s good to see accessibility at the beginning of the guide – this aspect is often left until last.

Universal design meets green building

Many home designers have argued for improved environmental sustainability while citizens have advocated for universal design. The 2022 edition of the National Construction Code (NCC) has them both covered. At last, universal design meets green building.

Sanctuary Magazine is a publication for people looking to build and renovate sustainably. Universal design is the focus of their latest edition. So I was delighted when the editor invited me to contribute on the topic of universal design in housing.

Small things can made a big difference to the ease of use. Things like pedestals to raise washing machines off the laundry floor to minimise bending.

Image by Taylor’d Distinction

Laundry with white fittings. Washer and Dryer raised up.

My article covers the usual benefits of universal design and how it is good for everyone and the elements of updated NCC for housing. And of course, I referenced the Livable Housing Design Guidelines as a good place to start. I was also given the opportunity to offer additional suggestions based on my experience.

Additional suggestions

My suggestions are based on building my own universally designed home, and from working alongside occupational therapists. Here are some of them.

Ensure easy access to storage by installing drawers instead of cupboards under benches in the kitchen, laundry and bathroom. A pull-out workboard in the kitchen is useful too: placed at a sitting height for an adult, it also provides a workspace for children.

Install lever handles on taps and on every door so that you can operate them with your elbows when your hands are full, or if you don’t have good grip. Consider grip strength and dexterity when choosing drawer and cupboard handles and other opening and closing mechanisms. Also consider raising power points from the skirting board and placing light switches and door handles at hip height for ease of use.

In two-storey homes, think about designing a location for the installation of a lift in the future. This space can begin life as cupboards and then be utilised for the lift later.

The Livable Housing Design Guidelines don’t cover level entry to balconies and alfresco areas, but it’s just as important as level entry into the home. For more space in bedrooms, change the space-consuming walk-in robes to cupboards. You might win space in the ensuite too.

“Universal design is about designing inclusively for as many people as possible, without the need for special types of designs. When applied to housing, it’s a design process that considers the real lives of families and households – throughout their lives. In the end, it’s just good sense to have homes that can
accommodate the expected and unexpected situations life brings for all family members.”

The editor, Anna Cumming, has allowed me to share my article, A Plus for Everyone. Architect Mary Ann Jackson is also a contributor to this edition with an article on a home renovation. You can access more information about Sanctuary, other articles, and subscribe.

Posted by Jane Bringolf, Editor

Accessible places with Google Maps

Google Maps has two new features to help us find our way and what we are looking for. Live View uses the camera in your phone to give street view directions, and the “Accessible Places” feature marks entrances with wheelchair access.

Accessible Places feature

Google Maps has expanded its “Accessible Places” feature that shows when a place is wheelchair accessible and/or stair-free. It will be interesting to see if this will encourage more places to make their businesses accessible. As we know, when it’s good for a wheelchair, it’s good for prams, bikes and trolleys.

The feature was originally launched in 2020, but it was limited to just Australia, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. Now, the feature is available worldwide on Android and iOS.

Google Maps pin icon against a background of different coloured dots.

To use this feature, turn on the “Accessible Places” setting in the Google Maps app. You will see a wheelchair icon on the business profile if it has a wheelchair accessible entrance. You will see the same icon with a strikethrough if the location is not accessible. The feature can also check to see if the location offers accessible parking, facilities, and seating.

Steepness of slopes doesn’t appear to be covered, and Google doesn’t say if their access maps are accessible.

It’s up to business owners to update their business profile to reflect whether their business is accessible. It’s unlikely Google will check whether this is true, but user feedback should keep businesses on their toes.

Live View feature

When walking around in new surroundings, Live View helps you keep your bearings. Using the phone camera, the flat map view is transformed into the street view with arrows so you know which way to head. A great plus for tourists and visitors.

When walking around in new surroundings, Live View helps you keep your bearings. Using the phone camera, the flat map view is transformed into the street view with arrows so you know which way to head. A great plus for tourists and visitors.

With Live View, users can walk the streets using the camera on their phone and get directions on the screen. The updated version has more information such as cafes, ATMs and transit stations.

A Gif of Live View in action showing a street view on Google Maps.

Different app developers have tried their hand at creating access maps, but Google brings many features together on the one screen. However, access for wheelchair users does not guarantee access for everyone, and it doesn’t cover all disabilities. It also doesn’t say how welcome people with disability will feel. Nevertheless, it is a good start and Google will continue to improve. The next thing is finding places where you can hear each other talk.

Year of Accessible Tourism

With the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games in their sights, the Queensland Government has declared 2023 the Year of Accessible Tourism. And it comes with funding. The fund will support small to medium sized tourism and events businesses to enhance their access for people with disability. The fund includes:

  • $10m Accessible Tourism Queensland Fund.
  • $1m Awareness and Capability Program.
  • $1m Visitor Experience Development Initiative.
A man in a wheelchair makes his way along a paved pathway amongst palm trees. The text says, Year of Accessible Tourism.

The Awareness and Capability Program is about raising awareness of the access requirements of visitors, workers and the community. The fund is also about building the capability of the tourism sector to support workers with disability. That includes making sure operators have the skills to employ people with disability.

The aim of the Visitor Experience Development stream is to promote the accessible tourism experience for everyone. This will include capturing images, videos and stories for marketing campaigns.

The Queensland Government wants to change the perception of what it means to be an accessible business. The aim is to support businesses to develop a wider range of accessible tourism itineraries and promote accessible tourism experiences.

While this is a great initiative, the media release makes it sound as if accessible experiences are separate from other “normal” experiences for everyone. The Queensland Government has links to resources for anyone interested in these projects.

Accessibility Toolbar