Adapting existing homes to be more accessible

Front cover of the report with blue and green background.From 2022, all new homes will be built to Silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. That was the decision by the state and building ministers last week. But what about existing homes? How will we deal with that? The Human Rights Commission published a study by Monash University on adapting existing homes to be more accessible.

The study concluded that there were two ways to increase the stock of housing that suits people with disability. One is to mandate accessible features in all new housing. That part is almost a done deal. The second way is “through some form of modification or adaptation, which may involve a substantial renovation”.

The focus of the report is on the second point – adaptation of existing stock. Renovations for home offices and multigenerational living are current examples of adaptation. The researchers wanted to see if there ways to design for flexibility and adaptation. The overall aim is to see if there is a way of improving current stock for the benefit of everyone. 

Monash University carried out the scoping study titled, Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: A scoping study. It has three parts. The first two cover current approaches to home modifications. The third part looks at the overall housing landscape for people with disability. The authors note that designers and architects are rarely involved in discussions on how best to adapt a home. Rather, it usually requires an occupational therapist to make recommendations. Quality of life and aesthetics are rarely factored into these assessments because of funding constraints.

Homes for pandemic and post-pandemic modes

A girl looks longingly out of the window. Outside coronavirus elements float in the air.Green building and universal design have a lot in common. They both aim to improve the lives of building users. When it comes to our homes, the brave new world of working from home will no doubt stay with us post pandemic. But there is more to creating a suitable home than just adapting for work. Our homes also need to protect us in both pandemic and post-pandemic modes. Universal design has a role to play here. 

An article in the Journal of Green Building tackles the issue of designing for a world where we should expect further pandemics. Public buildings, transportation, tourism, open space and events were all affected by COVID-19. Of interest here is the section on designing new homes. 

Author Dirk Spennemann argues for universal design and acknowledges the slow uptake in new homes. However, future proofing requires a universal design approach so that occupants can function in both pandemic and post-pandemic mode. Spennermann goes into detail about the four conceptual spaces a home needs and uses drawings to explain. See Figure 1 below from the article. Existing housing stock is discussed in terms of retrofits. The title of the article is, Residential Architecture in a post-pandemic world. It represents some forward thinking in home design. 

diagram of the four conceptual spaces in a home.

Abstract

COVID-19 has highlighted the disruptive, cross-sectorial effects a sudden-onset pandemic has on a globally interconnected world. A particularly insidious component is the high percentage of asymptomatic cases allowing the virus to seed undetected. The design of residential architecture will need to adapt to the new reality that COVID19 will not be the last coronavirus epidemic. This paper discusses the implications of COVID-19 for new residential construction. It argues for a containment space, separating the largely uncontrollable external environment from the internal threat reduced residential space, for a separation of visitor entertainment areas and private sleeping areas, as well as the design of a spatially separated master bedroom that can double as a self-isolation space if the need arises. The implications of this new design on existing housing stock are also discussed. The advocated concepts are novel and advance the design considerations for future residential developments.

Editor’s note: This article cites my paper, Barriers to universal design in Australian housing

 

Creating independence with colour

A pile of brightly coloured squares sit untidily on top of each other. The colours are very bright.Colour is important for giving visual cues about the position of objects and helps us navigate around obstacles. But as we grow older this ability tends to decrease along with vision loss. Colour coding is one strategy to gain or direct attention and increase independent movement. 

A study on using colour for safe movement in the home found that bright, clear or strong colour helps older eyes distinguish things. It is also good for people of any age who have low vision. Luminance contrast was also likely to be just as important, if not more so.  

The report of the study is a second edition and is titled, Use of Colour for Safe Movement. The aim of the study was to see how colour and colour contrast helps older people stay safe and comfortable at home.  Bright colours and high contrast improves spatial orientation, recognition of objects, and improves mood. The study has particular use for people involved in home modifications.

Related to this research is an Industry Checklist: Colours for the homes of people with ageing eyes or vision impairment.  This is useful for doing a home assessment and customising for individual needs and preferences. 

There is also a consumer factsheet, How can colours support movement of people with ageing eyes or impaired sight?  This has self-help tips such as marking objects with a bright colour such as buttons on a remote control. 

While this study was about home environments, there is much to take away for the public domain. 

Design, Dignity and Dementia Report

Front cover of the Design Dignity Dementia Report.The field of dementia and the design of the built environment is not well understood. Until now. Comprehensive Australian research has resulted in two volumes on the topic. The research looks at current best practice in design, and regional and cultural aspects. It also covers the importance of including people with dementia in the design process. The impact of the pandemic is another discussion point. People with dementia have the same human rights as others and that includes being treated with dignity.

The first volume is about the approach to the topic, the thorny issues, design processes and the 10 principles they developed. The second volume presents 84 case studies from around the world. A collection of day care centres, residential care facilities, and public buildings illustrate good design principles. The case studies include architectural detail and photos illustrate some of the design points.

The title of the report is, World Alzheimer Report 2020: Design, Dignity, Dementia: dementia-related design and the built environment. Authors are Prof Richard Fleming, John Zeisel and Kirsty Bennett.

The report launch webinar gives a good overview. Unfortunately the captions are auto-generated so they aren’t the best. However you can increase the speed and still understand the content.

Principles of dementia 

    • Unobtrusively reducing risks: Minimise risk factors such as steps and ensure safety features are as unobtrusive as possible.
    • Providing a human scale: The scale of buildings can impact the behaviour of people with dementia, so provide a human scale to minimise intimidating features.
    • Allowing people to see and be seen: The provision of an easily understood environment will help to minimise confusion. A literal line of sight should be clear for both residents, and staff.
    • Reducing unhelpful stimulation: Environments should be designed to minimise exposure to stimuli that are unhelpful, such as unnecessary or competing noises and the sight of unnecessary signs, posters, spaces and clutter.
    • Optimise helpful stimulation: Enabling the person living with dementia to see, hear and smell things that give them cues about where they are and what they can do, can help minimise their confusion and uncertainty.
    • Support movement and engagement: Providing a well-defined pathway of movement, free of obstacles, can support engagement with people and opportunities.
    • Create a familiar place: The use of familiar building design, furniture, fittings and colours affords people with dementia an opportunity to maintain their competence.
    • Provide opportunities to be alone or with others: A variety of spaces, some for quiet conversation and some for larger groups, as well as spaces where people can be by themselves, gives people with dementia a choice to how they spend their time.
    • Link to the community: The more an environment enables visitors to drop in easily and enjoy being in places that encourage interaction, the more the sense of identity that comes from spending time with loved ones and others is reinforced.
    • Design in response to vision for way of life: The way of life offered needs to be clearly stated and the building designed both to support it and to make it evident to the residents and staff.

Economic value of universal housing design

Front cover of the report showing an older grey-haired couple sitting together smiling.Consumers buy things that they want and need now rather than purchasing things with the future in mind. Well, that makes sense. For everyday items this poses no problems. But for expensive, longer lasting items, such as a home, it can be a problem. Many older Australians live in a home that was purchased in mid life. It was suitable then. But now that cherished home is challenging their independence in older age. That’s why all homes should have universal design features.

A new report based on a survey of care-givers, both paid and unpaid, provides insights into their experiences and observations on the impact of home design on their caring role. The researchers found that housing design features and proximity to amenities had a value that extended beyond those of residents. That is, it facilitates community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of providing care services. 

The executive summary concludes with a statement that supports universal design in housing for people to age well:

“The public value implicit in universally designed housing is conceptually demonstrated by associated increases in ageing well outcomes and reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on, care to support positive ageing outcomes (ie. generating efficiency gains in achieving ageing well outcomes).

The key findings of the study include:

    • Universal design features impact on the level of care needed to support ageing well.
    • The location of the home and access to amenities also has an impact on the level of care needed.
    • The time needed to support people with basic living activities is reduced.

The title of the report is, Exploring the economic value embedded in housing built to universal design principles: Bridging the gap between public placemaking and private residential housing.

The study was undertaken by RMIT University and the Longevity Group Australia.

Abstract: In this report, we explore the public value implicit in housing incorporating universal design principles. Value is conceptually demonstrated by identifying housing design and location attributes, associated with increases in ageing well outcomes via the reduction in the need for, the level of, and the time spent on care to support ageing in place. To do this a survey instrument is developed to capture the experiential knowledge of in home care service providers and their observations of the impact of the home on the ageing well outcomes of the seniors they care for and also on their capacity to provide care. We find that certain housing design and location feature have value that extends beyond that experienced solely by its residents, facilitating community capacity and social engagement, physical wellbeing and ease of delivery of public services such as care support.  

Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundWhile some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. Some might even be thinking about planning renovations to make staying put easier. A place in the country sounds ideal, but is it the right choice?

An article in Aged Care Insite critiques the age-restricted model of villages. It asks if this is a sustainable model into the future. The article was written in 2018 and shows foresight given today’s issues with aged care. Many of the current issues are discussed and the author, Susan Mathews questions if this is the right way forward. 

Mathews proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article  from an architect’s perspective. The title of the article is Aged Care in the urban context: what’s missing?  

Autism friendly home environment

Picture of a large family looking jubilant outside their houseFamilies living with autism have lots of stories to tell. Some of these stories were captured by researchers. The aim was to find supportive home design features to make homes more autism-friendly. 

A study by Wasan Nagib and Allison Williams uses family stories to explore the challenges they face. The authors of  “Towards an autism friendly home environment” conclude with three recommended home typologies – detached and attached houses, and apartments. They also discuss policy implications. The article was published in Housing Studies, by Taylor and Frances Online. You can access a free read of the article via ResearchGate.

Abstract: This study explores the challenges faced by children with autism and their families in the home environment and how physical elements of the home environment can be designed or modified to alleviate these challenges and create an autism-friendly home. The research employs qualitative methods to learn from the experiences of key informants involved in creating or modifying the home environment of people with autism; this involved interviews with architects and occupational therapists. To learn from the families themselves, an online survey of the families of children with autism across Canada and the United States was conducted. The study provides insight into the physical, social, and psychological challenges affecting the quality of life of children with autism and their families in their home environment and the contribution of home modifications to alleviating the challenges. The appropriateness of the three housing typologies – detached houses, attached houses, and apartments – to accommodate autism-related needs is discussed together with potential policy implications.

Reasons for UD in housing

Graphic with orange and red buildings depicting several sizes of home from small house to apartment block.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. With the Accessible Housing Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) out for comment, I thought it useful to pull together a few resources on housing. 

The Home is for Every Body takes a planning perspective.

Longevity, housing, carrots and sticks is a Japanese perspective on the political complexities.

Flexible housing offsets risk discusses the need for innovation in home design.

Designs for Quality of Life explains the value of home modifications 

No Place Like an Accessible Home  has qualitative and quantitative research by London School of Economics.

Is there a market for accessible homes? is another UK study based around wheelchair users.

The value of home modifications is a report by AHURI

WHO Housing, Health & Accessibility is a comprehensive guide with a chapter on accessible homes.

Lifetime Homes: A critical review looks at what works and what isn’t working

You can access the full list in the Housing Research section of this website. And there is the housing policy short e-learning course to get you across the issues in quick time. 

There is more on the RIS in a related post, UD in housing: Beyond wheelchairs. The consultation process is not inclusive or accessible unless you are an industry stakeholder. But you can send your story to Kieran O’Donnell at the Australian Building Codes Board by email

 

Tomorrow’s Homes: A sustainability perspective

Tomorrows Homes front coverUniversal 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. 

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has devised a policy framework for transitioning to sustainable homes. It identifies five key actions:

    1. National leadership
    2. Benchmarking and upskilling
    3. Building a foundation of leading homes
    4. Engaging consumers
    5. Leveraging finance

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. 

For a crash course in housing policy, sign up to CUDA’s free housing policy online learning: Home Coming? Framing housing policy for the future

An architectural view of aged care

Apartments in shades of grey are linked by a graded pathway to provide accessibility.The Longevity Revolution along with the recent pandemic is asking questions about aged care and retirement living. Can we keep doing the same? The short answer is no, but what to do instead?

A report from an architectural group reviews the literature and makes some strategic suggestions for the future. The research looked at how the market can re-align itself to the aspirations of upcoming ageing generations. As we know from previous research, it isn’t looking like retirement villages, and there’s a preference for aged care at home. 

The costs of aged care are discussed at length. Consequently, affordable strategies are needed for both older people and for government.  

Using models from overseas they suggest serviced apartments, communal flats and co-housing. Multi-generational living is presented as a new idea. It is premised on the notion that people will be happy to move when their current home no longer suits. We already have multi-generational living in our existing neighbourhoods. The homes just aren’t accessible for everyone at every age. Nevertheless, the researchers eschew the notion of mandatory universal design standards in dwellings. 

The report returns to the notion of specialised housing products for older people and talks of being able to convert “normal dwellings” to enable home care. The multi-generational neighbourhood model is presented as a combination of different housing options where young and old exchange services.

The title of the report is Aged Care in Australia and argues for the market to create new and sustainable ideas. It was prepared by Architectural Research Consultancy for Carabott Holt Architects.

Editor’s note: Researchers claim the Productivity Commission supports voluntary uptake of universal design standards, not regulation (see p.4). Nevertheless, the Productivity Commission recognises, “The Australian Government should develop building design standards for residential housing that meet the access and mobility needs of older people.” (See the Summary of Proposals.) The PC report goes back to 2011 when Livable Housing Australia was set up to lead a voluntary roll out of UD features in housing. As we know, this has not worked.

The image is courtesy Guy Luscombe’s NANA project report.