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.

Future proofing existing social housing: A case study

A group of red brick three storey apartments shaded by trees. What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women. 

King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too. 

King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective.  In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”

A thoughtful and nicely written paper and well referenced. Although the focus is on older women, the concepts apply across all social housing. The title of the paper is, Future-proofing Existing Social Housing: A case study helping meet older women’s housing needs.  

For a short read King’s paper was featured in a Domain article, Trapped inside: Why social housing apartments need an urgent revamp.  

Housing for Indigenous people

A small house with a large veranda sits on orange soil in a remote location.All new housing should be designed for accessibility to the silver level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines. This is one of the recommended policy actions from AHURI research on indigenous housing. A systematic inspection process for new builds to ensure compliance with the guidelines is also needed. They also recommend a new classification in the building code for “housing for Indigenous people”. Researchers found housing conditions were poor, inaccessible and that few people were aware of modifications for making life easier. 

Indigenous Australians have a high rate of disability and chronic illness but there is little housing available to support them. Disability is under-reported in this population, particularly in remote areas. This is because the concept of disability varies between urban and rural locations. In urban areas where people know about the NDIS their understanding of disability is similar to the non-indigenous population. Remote communities relate disability as wheelchairs.

The title of the project is, The lived experiences of housing among Indigenous people with disability.  The AHURI website has the full report, a positioning paper and a policy bulletin.

Editor’s note: Regardless of cultural heritage, all Australians need to have housing fit for purpose and it will be interesting to see what the Australian Building Codes Board’s Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) on accessible housing will recommend in June 2020.

WHO Housing, Health & Accessibility

Multi coloured graphic depicting the key elements in the guidelines "How housing can improve health and well-being".There are five key areas for healthy housing and accessibility is one of them. The WHO latest guidelines on housing and health 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 guidelines argue 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. 

Housing multigenerational households in Australia

House half built showing timber frameworkThe top five reasons for multigenerational living are financial, care arrangements and support, adult children yet to leave, starting or continuing education, and older (grand)parents moving in. The reasons behind the trend towards multigenerational living are not quite as simple as the list implies. Cultural factors are also part of the story. Home ownership of a detached dwelling is critical to successful multigenerational living. There is usually greater flexibility to modify and adapt the home as needs change, which is not possible in apartments or rental properties.

These are the findings in a book chapter by Edgar Lui, Hazel Easthope, Bruce Judd and Ian Burnley. They end the chapter by discussing policy implications and include the need to adopt universal design principles in all new properties and major refurbishments. They add that although these principles have been around for more than 50 years they are yet to materialise in home designs as voluntary codes  which are unlikely to be agents of change.

The title of the chapter is “Housing Multigenerational Households in Australian Cities: Evidence from Sydney and Brisbane at the Turn of the 21st Century.” 

The title of the book is, Housing in 21st-Century Australia: People, Practices and Policies.

Brief introduction to the book by Routledge: “Over the last two decades new and significant demographic, economic, social and environmental changes and challenges have shaped the production and consumption of housing in Australia and the policy settings that attempt to guide these processes. These changes and challenges, as outlined in this book, are many and varied. While these issues are new they raise timeless questions around affordability, access, density, quantity, type and location of housing needed in Australian towns and cities. The studies presented in this text also provide a unique insight into a range of housing production, consumption and policy issues that, while based in Australia, have implications that go beyond this national context. For instance how do suburban-based societies adjust to the realities of aging populations, anthropogenic climate change and the significant implications such change has for housing? How has policy been translated and assembled in specific national contexts? Similarly, what are the significantly different policy settings the production and consumption of housing in a post-Global Financial Crisis period require? Framed in this way this book accounts for and responds to some of the key housing issues of the 21st century.”

Tick of approval for Visitable Housing

A woman is pushing a stroller in the front door and you can also see a nice wide hallway.The terms “visitable housing” and “visitability” are essentially about people who use mobility aids having the same rights to visit friends and family in their homes. It doesn’t necessarily mean they can live there or stay overnight. The three key features associated with visitability are a step free entrance, wider doorways and a usable toilet on the entry level. These features are reflected in Part M of the UK building code.  Various states in the US have tried to encourage uptake of visitability, but it is not mandated.

Visitability differs from full accessibility and universal design. It is a minimal baseline seen by some as a cost effective way to entice the property industry to get on board with the ideas. Although the concept has been around for twenty years, it has gained little, if any, traction. Visitability is not a concept easy to sell unless the buyer thinks they need it. And few do. 

A research project carried out in Ohio in 2015 looked at: home-buyers’ perceived value and perceptions of visitable features; developer, designer and builder perspectives; real estate agent views; estimated costs; and which house buyers were most likely to buy. The aim of the report was to create a persuasive argument for adopting visitability in new homes in Ohio. However, the researchers acknowledge industry resistance and suggest incentives to encourage uptake, or mandating the features.

The report is structured into three sections based on their surveys of three groups: homeowners and home buyers, industry stakeholders, and real estate agents. All groups were asked to assess photos of visitable features in homes. In all instances, participants believed the homes would sell for more and sell more quickly. Industry stakeholders estimated the features would cost less than one per cent of construction costs. This is in line with other research.

The title of the report is, Perceived value of visitable housing in Ohio. It is also available through

Elements of the research are also available in an academic paper by the same authors in, Homeowner and homebuyer impressions of visitable features.  


Livable Housing Design: Not our problem

Easy access inside and out of this home.Why do we keep building homes as if we are never going to grow old? The answer is complex. But the perceptions of developers, designers and builders gives us some insights. A Brisbane study collected data from site-visits, building documents and interviews with industry stakeholders. Four key themes emerged showing why nothing has changed: voluntary approach, otherness, immediacy, and inertia.

The strongest theme was the voluntary approach. It’s considered too risky to be a first mover – it could be a disadvantage. There is a view that people needing inclusive housing are not part of the mainstream market – they are “others”. Group homes and retirement villages were seen as the answer. Inclusive design was assumed to be ugly and undesirable. Therefore it couldn’t be marketed.

In terms of immediacy, the focus is the new home buyer not the long term use of the dwelling. It was also assumed that a young family wouldn’t want it. Consequently there isn’t a market for it. Inertia, was expressed as the reluctance to “change the way we do things around here”. The culture of building by rote dominates the house building system.

There is more in this study about interventions that might assist, one being regulation. Keeping a competitive level playing field is paramount in the industry. Bottom line, inclusive housing is not perceived as mainstream and therefore someone else’s responsibility. Consequently the Livable Housing Design Guidelines are insufficient in themselves to bring about change. 

The title of the open access article is, Livable Housing Design: The voluntary provision of inclusive housing in Australia. While this was published in 2014 it still remains current because no change to regulation or practice has occurred. However, we wait to see what the Australian Building Codes Board recommends to the Building Ministers Forum on the matter of accessible housing. The picture is from the gallery of Lifetime Homes in Tasmania.