The idea of universal design in housing is not new. In spite of academic research proving the need for it, and practice guidelines based on real lives, we are still a long way from achieving access for everyone at home. Here are some resources with reasons for UD in housing.
Our homes have to work for us – all of us. COVID has highlighted how important this is. But do our current home designs support independent living and all home-based activities for the whole household? Probably not.
The Conversation has a timely article on how home design liberates people with disability or long term health condition and improves their quality of life. It is written in the context of the Australian Government’s housing stimulus package. The title of the article is, Renovations as stimulus? Home modifications can do so much more to transform people’s lives. The bottom line is that designs that increase independence, significantly decrease care hours and improve quality of life.
Currently, the community currently bears the cost of not having universal design features in our homes. Early entry to aged care, carers not being able to do paid work, increased falls, longer times in hospital, and the list goes on. And the features are good for everyone – it’s not special.
A home has to support people studying, working, doing a hobby, exercise or just needing a quiet space. And let’s not forget our personal care, household chores and maintenance. It also has to suit people caring for others – family members or paid staff.
NSW Government wants to set a 20 year vision for housing. The strategy covers housing supply, diversity, affordability and resilience. Housing for seniors and people with disability is listed as a separate category. It mentions national policies such as taxation, migration, financial regulation, and the NDIS. Nevertheless, it lacks reference to the National Disability Strategy, the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the current consultation Regulation Impact Statement for accessible housing. The strategy implies that the NDIS and Specialist Disability Accommodation will solve the problem.
The proposed vision is:
“Housing that supports security, comfort and choice for all people at all stages of their lives, achieved through supply that meets the demand for diverse, affordable and resilient housing and responds to environmental, cultural, social and economic contexts.”
The document includes a set of discussion questions that can help people with their responses. There is also a Fact Bookwith the data used to form the draft strategy. It includes data on households with a person with disability on page 25.
Universal design in housing faces the same policy and industry challenges as the sustainability movement. Consumers are unclear about their choice, and confused by terminology and rating systems. Home builders are locked into supply chains that limit innovation, and financial institutions can’t see the value of such designs.
Tomorrow’s homes: A policy framework outlines how the structure of the housing industry creates restrictions on doing anything differently. It also has suggestions for appealing to consumers by using language they relate to. Comfortable, healthy, affordable, easy to use – in short, appealing to their aspirations. Consumers don’t frame their aspirations in words such as sustainable, accessible, or universal design. And they don’t aspire to ageing or disability.
The document concludes with a call for home builders to engage in the sustainable housing market now rather than wait for regulation. However, a voluntary approach hasn’t turned out well for accessible housing.
Anyone interested in the housing market and housing policy will find this a useful document. Easy to read and well laid out it argues the case for policy reform in housing design.
There are five key areas for healthy housing and accessibility is one of them.The WHO guidelines on housing and health and accessibility takes into consideration ageing populations and people with functional impairments. It recommends an “adequate proportion of housing stock should be accessible.
In the remarks section it argues that living in an accessible home improves both independence and health outcomes. Although the guidelinesargue for a proportion of housing stock it has put the issue on the agenda. It shows it is as important as all other factors. However, the notion of proportion can lead some agencies to think that means specialised and segregated housing. It is worth noting that the lead author of this section is an Australian, Professor Peter Phibbs.
The other key areas are crowding, indoor cold, indoor heat, and home safety. For more detail there is an additional document showing method and results of the systematic review that underpinned this section of the Guidelines – Web Annex F. and includes interventions such as home modifications and assistive technology.
A promotional video asks the question “Why wouldn’t you?”. It is aimed at the buyers of brand new homes. It extols the virtues of universal design. However, I would ask the designers and builders the same question: Why wouldn’t you just include it? It doesn’t look any different from anything else you would build. Not unless you actually notice the convenient step-free threshold and the open plan living. We all need homes to be fit for purpose.
Housing is the probably the only product that deliberately excludes a significant proportion of the population. Yes. Significant. More than one third of households have a person with disability living in it. And I haven’t added the extra 22% of the population with chronic health conditions. The ABS counts this group separately from people with disability.
Research by Phillippa Carnemolla shows that family care hours dropped by 47% after a home was modified to be more accessible. That’s because the individual could do much more for themselves. Difficult to argue the economics on that one.
I wrote an articleon this for arguing the case for universal design in housing using the video as the basis for the discussion.
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 tool is easily adapted from the New Zealand model and you can also read the research behind it.
If you want to know what people think about accessible housing, the findings from a 2018 surveygive a good idea. There are four narratives that frame the report: the housing industry view; the government view; prospective buyers’ view; and the perspective of people who need mainstream accessible housing.
Across the globe, advocates for universal design in housing find themselves faced with the same myths. And these myths prevail in spite of hard evidence. AgeUK and Habinteg have put together a fact sheet, Home Truths – rebutting the 10 myths about building accessible housing. They challenge the ideas that it is too costly, difficult or undesirable. And also why the solution is not in building more age-segregated developments. It will be interesting to see how the proposal to include accessible features in the Australian building code progresses through the Regulatory Impact Statement.
Note: In the UK, Part M4 (1) of the building code mandates some basic access features. There are two other sections; one is to include adaptability, and the other is to be wheelchair accessible. However, these are optional unless it is set down in the local government plan because there is a community need. Developers challenge these plans asserting that the local authority has failed to prove the need. This indicates that industry will continue to fight for what suits them rather than occupants of the home.
The NSW Apartment Design Guide includes a small section on universal design. It defines universal design as, “… an international design philosophy that enables people to continue living in the same home by ensuring that apartments are able to change with the needs of the occupants. Universally designed apartments are safer and easier to enter, move around and live in. They benefit all members of the community, from young families to older people, their visitors, as well as those with permanent or temporary disabilities” (P 118).
In the design guidance section, it refers to the Livable Housing Design Guidelines (Silver Level, equivalent to visitability), but continues the reference to a proportional number (20%), which means universal design is not universally applied. Consequently this becomes specialised housing rather than mainstream housing. The old Adaptable Housing Standard (AS4299) continues to be referenced. The new apartment guide replaces the NSW Residential Flat Design Code.
Edited transcript from live captioning of the presentation by Shawn Neilson and Joel Elbourne who outline the process of engaging with developers to encourage the uptake of Banyule City Council’s Liveable Housing Design Guidelines in new housing developments. They show how it is possible to get buy-in from developers using local government resources. The title of their presentation is, Improving housing for people across their lifespan. Banyule City Council also has a Liveable Housing Policy. However, the policy indicates the notion of a proportion of new dwellings, which means the policy applies only to multi dwelling developments.