If you live in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, air pollution and staying warm in winter are major considerations for home design. The other major consideration is how to make homes accessible using inclusive design principles. Oidov Vaanchig has done just that and written a short article explaining his eco-inclusive house.
Oidov writes detail about the cost of construction and the carbon footprint. The house relies on solar with minimal electrical consumption. Air quality is controlled with a filtration system because Ulaanbaatar has high levels of air pollution. Replacing the traditional ger and wooden housing stock with homes like this would reduce air pollution by 85%.
Oidov Vaanchig has done a great job in promoting his experimental house to the point where he received a visit from the United States Ambassador to Mongolia.
The ger areas surrounding Ulaanbaatar present many challenges for inclusion and accessibility. This house serves as a model for inclusive design as well. As Oidov says, implementing inclusive design principles can break the cycle of disability and poverty.
Oidov concludes his article by saying that the house “stands as a beacon of hope” in addressing air pollution and social exclusion. A lesson to all house builders in the developed world.
The term “vulnerable” was used repeatedly during the COVID pandemic to label people with certain health conditions, and anyone over the age of 70 years. Transport professionals also talk about vulnerable pedestrians as if other pedestrians are “normal” pedestrians. So, is there such a thing as vulnerable groups, or are people subject to vulnerabilising conditions? In the context of housing, Ilan Wiesel and Emma Power discuss the question of vulnerable groups or vulnerabilising housing.
Much has changed in housing design and technology yet homes remain inaccessible. The authors discuss the role of the housing industry and their role in maintaining the status quo on inaccessibility.
Wiesel and Power discussinaccessible housing as a ‘vulnerabilising assemblage’. There is a growing body of literature that lists the direct harms of inaccessible housing. However, their study considers both direct harm and future harms and documents these. The paper begins with an academic focus, but many readers will find the case study more interesting.
The paper discusses the conceptual shift from vulnerable to vulnerabilising, and then conceptualises the groupings of vulnerabilising things and processes. The authors side-step housing as a market or a system and think about it as a group of different ideologies and subjectivities. The assembly of this collection of ideas, actors and markets is not fixed but changing.
Exposure to harm
The case study explores the nature and experience using an online questionnaire and in-depth interviews. “Exposure to harm” is used to identify participants’ concerns about how they are exposed to possible harm in their home. The risk of injury or further injury emerged strongly. It creates significant emotional stress and this is harmful as well.
A man with spinal cord injury broke his leg several times transferring from his wheelchair in the bathroom. Many years later, a major bathroom modification prevented his falls. This is an example of home design vulnerabilising his body. (Image courtesy Caroma)
The fear of homelessness and risk of house fires and the ongoing stress and worry about these risks also affected mental health. And then the worry of forced institutionalisation.
There is much to unpack in the case study and a long list of the many harms inaccessible housing brings to occupants. And not only current occupants but to those who will occupy the home in the future. Disabling conditions are a fact of life and can happen to anyone at any time.
From the abstract
The concept of ‘vulnerabilising’ marks a shift in the focus of analysis and intervention away from individuals and groups labelled vulnerable, towards the processes that generate and reproduce vulnerability.
To that end, we develop a framework that conceptualises how ‘vulnerabilising assemblages’ operate. We mobilise assemblage thinking and engage with theoretical debates on the nature of vulnerability as a universal, albeit unequal, human condition.
Addressing inaccessible housing as a case study, we identify three mechanisms through which people with physical disabilities become vulnerable:
through exposure to harm;
through erosion of defenses against harm; and by
legitimising or motivating harm.
We call on researchers, policymakers and grassroot activists to shift their attention from vulnerable bodies to vulnerabilising assemblages.
We know that as people grow older, the desire to stay in their current home increases. Different health conditions begin to emerge as we get older, and home design becomes an important factor in managing these conditions. Researchers from Italy chose to explore Parkinson’s disease in relation to home design using inclusive design methods.
Parkinson’s disease is one of the most frequently occurring neurological conditions along with dementia. Parkinson’s disease affects voluntary movements which make daily tasks more difficult.
Similarly to other studies, the researchers found the size of the bathroom the main area of difficulty. This is for manoeuvring in a wheelchair or shower chair and placement of a shower seat.
People with reduced mobility find stairs difficult. But the visual impact of stairs can reduce “freezing” in people with Parkinson’s disease. However, overall, participants in the study preferred a single level dwelling. Being able to work in the kitchen from a seated position was the third most important factor. The design of kitchen appliances also emerged as a design factor along with furniture design.
The article has some explanatory drawings and pictures depicting their design solutions. Many of these solutions are beneficial for other health conditions and disabilities. Circulation space within the home is the main criteria for all of them.
Participants reported frustration with products immediately identifiable as “products for the disabled”. The authors note that although these products are useful, they are stigmatising. Consequently they are often rejected by those who could really benefit from them. Their appearance makes them different from “normal products”.
As with the universal design approach and co-design methods, places and products for people with disability are good for everyone.
“…designers often forget the meaning and full force of the words human-centred design as a fundamental affirmation of human dignity…”
Designers have “the responsibility to continuously search for what can be done to uphold and enhance the dignity of human beings as they lead their lives…”
Note that the authors make reference to inclusive design being different from universal design and design-for-all. Their distinction is based on the notion of universal design being only for people with disability. This is often the case in the United States, but is not the case in Australia. The term universal design is embedded in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, this does not mean it is exclusive to people with disability.
Consequently, the terms inclusive design and universal design mean the same thing. Human-centred design also has the same goals, but has emerged from the ergonomics literature.
From the abstract
Inclusive design is an approach that puts users at the centre of the design process. This means working with people rather than working for them. This article focuses on the application of inclusive design and human-centred design approaches specifically aimed at Parkinson’s disease.
The article describes a case study of the applied methodology for solving challenges posed by Parkinson’s disease. The case study shows how an inclusive design mindset favours a holistic and creative approach, capable of bringing together different user groups throughout the various stages of the design process.
From October 2022, a step free entry and other minor changes for accessibility will be mandated for all new homes. For many people it will minimise the need for home modifications. Where they are needed, it will make it easier and more cost effective. In the 20 years leading up to the code change, many research articles were written to put the case. These articles remain relevant for existing homes and in jurisdictions yet to mandate access features in new homes. They are a mix of magazine and research articles and are listed below.
How long can older people stay put in their homes? The answer rests on two things: home design and easy access to support services. Retaining a sense of connection to community is another important element which is why the quest to stay put is so strong. And of course, staying put also reduces the stress on the welfare budget. But are there alternative models of housing that can support older people in their later years? Three Nordic housing researchers found some.
Older people aren’t all the same. One thing they do share in common – they want to maintain their autonomy and preferences.
Nordic countries have a reputation for providing strong social and welfare supports for their citizens. But population ageing is stretching the limits of these policies. The researchers reviewed the current situation in Nordic countries to identify issues and potential solutions. Using case studies they show how older people can live independently and inter-dependently.
The application of universal design across Nordic housing is enabling people to stay home longer. However, the case studies showed that loneliness is a growing challenge. Consequently, defining an age-friendly environment is much more than a step-free entry.
The challenge is to find solutions that promote activity, participation and a feeling of safety. Consequently, we need a joined up approach to housing and neighbourhood design. That is, apply universal design to everything. Then it will be good for everyone.
The way housing and urban environments are designed influences opportunities for informal social contact. Good examples are usually in designated specific older age communities. So the knowledge is there, it’s just assumed it’s only needed for older people.
Older people aren’t all the same
Too often it’s assumed that older people all need the same things. They don’t – they are as diverse as the general population. They have different lifestyles and want different housing choices. The one thing they share in common is wanting to maintain autonomy and preferences, especially as they become more frail.
The Nordic countries have a reputation for having both universal welfare systems and high housing standards. However, the demographic development and ageing in place policies bring challenges to the present housing and care services for the older population. During the last decades, there has been a significant decrease in the coverage of care for older people. This is related to the increase of older people as well as challenges related to the availability of the workforce and raising care costs.
The objective of the comparative descriptive analyses is to point out the challenges and future possibilities for housing. This is illustrated by some new cases all of them showing solutions that enable older people to continue being a part of city life in their own neighbourhoods. They also show a variety of solutions that at the same time gives possibilities to live independently and live interdependent in different kind of co-housing and neighbourhoods.
A group of researchers in Queensland have developed a liveability framework for social and affordable housing. They interviewed key stakeholders from industry and government who make decisions about housing and housing policy. But will it work? With significant industry resistance to regulation changes, it will take more than an academic exercise to improve matters.
Researchers tested the elements of the draft framework by interviewing stakeholders. They claim the framework has the potential to drive the adoption of better outcomes for whole of life solutions.
The five elements of the draft framework are:
Liveability – place based and community focused
Accessibility – person centres and community focused
Social, environmental and economic value – building the value equation
Regulatory and policy environment
The case study used for testing the framework was based on an existing medium density development with access to transport and services. Twelve representatives from community housing, state government, advocates and industry associations were participants in the study.
Editor’s comment: The framework is specific to social and affordable higher density housing, but offers nothing new to the this field of work. Similar frameworks attempt the same thing – trying to find a way to encourage implementation. Frameworks are clearly not the answer. This is a policy issue and not a design issue. Good designers are able to design out the problems, including cost, or at least design around them.
From the abstract
Ensuring liveability and accessibility in medium to high density urban housing and precincts is critical to maximise investment and minimise future risks to our community. This research investigates and develops our understanding of liveable and accessible social and affordable housing, with a focus on medium- and high-density urban precincts. The paper presents the findings of a case study undertaken in the Green Square Close precinct in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
Findings are derived from a literature review and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders from the housing industry and government. The results inform a liveability framework for social and affordable medium to high density housing utilising five key elements.
These elements include; 1) Liveability – place-based and community focused, 2) Accessibility – person centred and community focused, 3) Value equation – cost benefit, 4) Regulatory and policy environment and 5) Adoption and overcoming barriers.
The liveability framework also establishes sub-elements across these five elements to improve understanding of whole of life needs. The development of a liveability framework for social and affordable medium and high-density housing presents opportunities for decision making in the co-creation of, and investment in this critically needed housing.
A case study from the Netherlands describes an inclusive process for designing energy-efficient home renovations. A neighbourhood of 280 apartments is the subject of the study. With a mix of homeowners, renters and social housing tenants, it was essential to involve residents in the renovation process.
Involving residents in major renovations is essential for bringing together the technical and social aspects of design.
The principles of civic and energy justice underpinned the approach to the project. Given that the resulting designs will largely be the same for every home, they need to be inclusive and considerate of ongoing energy costs for everyone. That means an inclusive design process is required.
Participatory action research
Expert stakeholders and six residents were interviewed and 50 residents were observed and interviewed during a tour of the demonstration apartment. Mutual learning was a key part of the iterative process involving prototypes.
Attention was paid to diversity, accessibility of research materials and interview materials were both verbal and visual. Technical design features were part of the results, but values emerged from the process. These values were health, sustainability, property value, cost of living and comfort.
The paper goes into more detail on the findings and the process. As part of the process, researchers developed a renovation guide to help residents understand what the proposed changes mean for them. They acknowledged time constraints which meant residents did not have time to experience the apartment. Rather, they only had time to view it.
Recommendations for improving the process include:
Location. Any sessions should be in the neighbourhood and in an accessible venue.
Time. Different meeting and interview times will suit different people.
Invitations. The guide acts as an invitation but might not work for everyone.
Language. Dutch is a second language for some people so a session in English might be necessary.
Other options. Apart from meetings, phone and email should be available. Not everyone feels comfortable in a group.
The lessons from the paper could be applied in housing situations such as social housing and co-housing. It also adds to the literature on inclusive design and co-design, and participatory action research.
This paper addresses inclusive design in a situation of complexity and how to improve it. The focus is on the inclusive design of a complex process and its tools, which is increasingly an issue in systemic design challenges. The current situation of climate change means we need to work on sustainability and inclusion at the same time.
The paper presents a case study of an energetic renovation process and the stakeholders’ activities and views in it. In a research-through-design process, the paper traces the possibilities to intervene in the process with communication tools to increase inclusivity of both process and outcomes.
Energy efficiency and universal design
Are energy efficiency and universal design incompatible? Potentially. Energy efficiency has an engineering approach and universal design has a sociological approach. This is what makes them incompatible according to researchers in Belgium. Energy efficiency is a measurable product whereas universal design is a process. So how can they both be addressed in home renovations? This was the topic of a conference paper in 2016.
Thinking has moved on and we now talk about sustainability from both perspectives and the importance of having both. However, this paper brings the concepts into the same conversation and highlights areas of potential conflict. The paper has some interesting and explanatory graphsand comparisons that are worth a look especially for academics and theorists.
The title of the paper is, Energy Efficiency and Universal Design inHome Renovations – A Comparative Review
Residential aged care is not usually a choice but a last resort. We all need better housing options in later life.
Long term care, nursing homes, residential care are all names for care in a facility dedicated to supporting older adults. But how many people desire this option? Usually it is a place of last resort because staying put is no longer an option. But can we do better than this?
A report from Canada looks at the issues of long term care, ageing in place with a brief mention universal design. The 14 page document takes a Canadian perspective of international solutions and options which are all specialist solutions.
The first recommendation is to encourage alternatives to long term care. The alternative recommendation is to develop housing and care models that incorporate universal design features into new builds. The second recommendation focuses on support services.
The report discusses seven different types of housing, five of which are based on segregation by age. Here is a brief overview:
Current housing options
Independent Living /Active Lifestyle Accommodation is for adults requiring minimal assistance. They are either detached homes or suites within apartment buildings. These solutions are best when offered within the existing neighbourhood.
Assistive Living / Supportive Housing is designed to provide safe and accessible homes for people needing personal care and housekeeping services.
Retirement Living homes are usually privately owned and suit older adults in the higher income brackets. This option suits older adults with higher incomes.
Co-housing consists of private dwellings with kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms and shared common areas such as gardens and walkways. This model is not exclusively for older adults and offers connectedness as well as privacy.
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) develop overtime due to older adults remaining in their own homes as they age. This model is aimed at helping older adults to live as independently as possible. The concept of NORCs originated in the US.
Villages are member-based, grassroots organizations developed and governed by older adults in the US. Villages provide free and discounted services and staff and volunteers coordinate activities. This model helps reduce the risk of social isolation.
Intergenerational housing is the fastest growing housing arrangement in Canada. A diverse range of individuals of different ages live together and share life experiences and skills. Multigenerational housing encourages older adults to remain engaged in the community.
The report concludes with additional resources and references.
Editor’s note:Universal design features for housing will be in the new edition of the National Construction Code. The features are basic and we have yet to see when industry and state governments will implement them.
People with intellectual disability are often left out when it comes to design. Whether it’s built or digital environments, services or products, this group is often overlooked. However, with co-design methods, people with intellectual disability could and should be included. But, this is still a new idea and there is very little literature or case studies on working with this group.
The literature review found the following gaps in knowledge:
General lack of literature on co-designing with people with an intellectual disability
No specific literature encapsulating the co-design process, in the context of intellectual disability, and housing
No frameworks or benchmarks on co-design with people with disability
Lack of evaluation of the design outcomes of co-design process
Lack of research that can assist parents plan for their ageing children.
Housing design for people with physical disabilities has evolved over time but is not easily adapted to suit people with intellectual disability. There is an obvious need to consider people with both intellectual and physical disability.
The title of the article is, Co-designing in Australia housing for people with intellectual disability: an integrative literature review“. You can download the web version or the PDF version.
Intellectual disability and social inclusion
Local government authorities are exactly that – local. They are the tier of government closest to the everyday lives of people. Local neighbourhoods are where people feel either socially included or not. People with intellectual disability are much more likely to feel socially excluded. A research project undertaken by the University of Technology (UTS) took a novel approach to the issue.
To begin, they recruited researchers with intellectual disability to participate in all aspects of designing and carrying out the research. This was a key step for informing the research process. The purpose of the study was to understand the experiences of people with intellectual disability in their local community.
They found that people with intellectual disability have valuable information to share. However, their voices are unheard and consequently their needs not understood.The discussion starter was the question, “What would you do if you were boss of your local council?” The answers were that they want their council to:
Provide accessible information in a range of formats about what is happening in the community and how to participate.
Provide someone to speak to – or even better, face to face contact.
Employ people with intellectual disability.
Help them access better transport and find ways to make them feel safer and more welcome.
Improve public toilets and offer quiet spaces at noisy, busy events.
A framework for change
The researchers adopted the framework the WHO Age Friendly Cities program. which is pitched to community life at the local level. This is a good framework for councils to use with people with intellectual disability as well as older people.
Participants wanted to know what is available and how to get around the community. They also wanted respectful interactions with others in the community and said familiar faces and places were important.
These findings have some important information for councils and their social policy. Grouping people with intellectual disability under the generic term “people with disability” risks leaving them out. Councils should adapt communication and engagement strategies to suit people with intellectual disability.
The idea of downsizing is appealing to empty-nesters. But where can they go? The biggest barrier to downsizing is finding a suitable home in the right location. Many empty nesters just want a smaller home and yard. Governments have a vested interest in older Australians having a home in which it is safe to grow old. It’s cost effective for everyone.
Sometimes it isn’t the home they want to downsize – it’s the garden maintenance. ‘Empty’ bedrooms do not necessarily mean that a home is under-utilised. This is a crude measure because spare bedrooms are needed as guest and hobby rooms. Spending time at home means the home has to do more. A home too small limits options.
When it comes to house size, Bruce Juddand colleagues from UNSW found that retirees generally want three bedrooms for flexibility of lifestyle. Some for visiting family and looking after grandchildren. Others need room for hobbies or a study. Some couples sleep separately for health reasons. Typically, retirees spend more time at home now that they are not working, so space becomes even more important.
Baby Boomers defy predictions.
Housing experts predicted “the great senior sell-off”. But baby boomers aren’t downsizing – they are staying put.
Mimi Kirk in a CityLab article looked at new research from Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies that discusses issues related to housing type, affordability and the different expectations of millennials and boomers. Millennials are generally uninterested in the style of their parents’ homes. So there goes the myth that boomers are (selfishly) holding onto homes that millennials could buy.
Policy makers think that downsizing is largely about finances and homes being too large to suit ageing in place. But the evidence is something else. Research findings put to bed some of the myths younger policy makers have about older people and their ideas on housing.
“…high cost of new multi-storey apartments means that householders don’t necessarily have enough money from the sale of their larger family house to buy an apartment, particularly after stamp duty, bank and real estate agent fees, and moving costs are included.” AHURI report, 2018.
Suitable housing in the future?
In the future, people living in Victoria, ACT, Queensland, NT and Tasmania will have the benefit of universal design features in new homes. However, the NSW, WA and SA governments have decided that this important change to the building code isn’t necessary. To keep up to date on the latest, follow the ANUHD website and join their network of supporters. The 2022 edition of the National Construction code will have the updated design features.