Disability living to go through changes
One of the most significant changes in the coming years will be the increase of older people and people with a disability living in private home. Housing designs will need to adapt to cope with this demographic change, and respond to the needs of those residents. Selina Zwolsman of Kitchen Bathroom Designers Institute discusses what that means for home design.
The Australian Government has been building ‘accessible’ homes to facilitate the needs of those with a disability in the social housing sector for some time. At a federal level, there is recognition to accommodate existing private home modiﬁcations with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). This funded safety net has been established to provide a nationally consistent commitment to supporting people with disabilities in their everyday life, allowing greater independence and improved participation in learning and employment.
As the scheme rolls out to eligible applicants across the country, designers who recognise and understand the needs of people with a disability, multiple disabilities or chronic illness, people recovering from illness or injury, and an ageing demographic generally, will be in demand.
APPROACHING DESIGN FOR NOW AND THE FUTURE.
The needs of Australians are diverse, and will continue to change in the future as our demographics evolve. So how do we go about approaching design that will accommodate varying kinds of disabilities and an ageing population?
Three design approaches are gaining momentum in the Australian housing industry:
1. Accessible Housing
2. Universal Design
3. Adaptable Housing
The term ‘Accessible’ is deﬁned in AS 1428.1-2009 (Design for Access & Mobility) as ‘having features to enable use by people with a disability’. The Building Code of Australia sets out access requirements for Class 2 to 9 buildings, along with Class 10a buildings (private garages) and certain class 10b structures (swimming pools). It addresses requirements such as car parking, change and shower facilities, colour contrast, ﬂoor surfaces, pathways and toilets.
The ‘Accessible House’ is generally a purpose-built dwelling constructed to meet the needs of a person or persons with a disability. AS 1428.12001 speciﬁes design requirements applicable to new building work (but excluding work to private residences) to provide access for people with disabilities. The Standard is referenced by AS 4299 (Adaptable Housing), and sets out useful information with respect to accommodating the needs of a wheelchair user.
A universally designed home will be designed and ﬁtted out in such a way to accommodate people of all ages and abilities. It will not include special features only for the aged or those with a disability, but will promote normalised solutions to access and usability for the majority of people.
The Centre for Universal Design deﬁnes the concept as ‘an approach to the design of products, services and environments to be useable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design. Universal design is an inclusive design philosophy which spans age, gender and ability.’
The ‘Adaptable House’ adopts the ideas of Universal Design, and is able to be easily and cost eﬀectively adapted to become an ‘Accessible House’ (i.e. able to accommodate wheelchair users in all areas) when required. AS 4299-1995 was developed by the Joint Standards Australia/New Zealand Committee ME/64 on Access for People with Disabilities, and relates speciﬁcally to residential, rather than public buildings.
The Standard refers to principles of adaptable housing, as good housing design for everyone that is aﬀordable. It is a concept that provides a safe house for existing community and family and suitable for any level of ability.
In summary, an Accessible House will accommodate wheelchair users in all areas, but won’t necessarily accommodate a resident with particular needs (for example, a person with vision impairment may have very diﬀerent needs to a person in a wheelchair). A Universal House is a home that is designed to accommodate people of all ages and abilities; on the other hand, an Adaptable House must, in its adaptable features, suit any future occupant with any type of disability.
APPLYING DESIGN PRINCIPLES TO THE HOME
In general terms, the interior of the home should have level access throughout to reduce the risk of injury and falls. Universal Design recommends wider internal corridors for mobility equipment (and prams) – deﬁned by Adaptable Design as a minimum of 1000mm wide and doorways at 820mm wide. The layout of the home facilitates the potential dual occupancy (for example a carer, or an elderly relative), has a logical plan and plenty of open plan living space. Fixed furniture and ﬁttings need plenty of space to move around. For those with hearing impairment select products and insulation with acoustic clarity. Windows under Universal Design Guidelines need the operating units to be located at a height that are easy to operate either standing or sitting. Adaptable specify sills at a maximum 730mm from ﬂoor to living and 600mm above ﬂoor to bedroom areas.
KITCHEN & DINING
– Design kitchen benchtops at both standing and sitting heights to accommodate reduced standing endurance, temporary and long term mobility impairment and inclusion of small children.
– Specify appliances that incorporate audible/visual cues and ﬂexible installation options.
– Ensure cooktops have automatic cut oﬀ and cool plates which are only activated in contact with pans.
– Specify separate lever taps to provide ease of use and minimise hot water use.
Adaptable Design Guidelines
– Install kitchen joinery using modular components which allow for easy removal or modiﬁcation of individual components,
– Install joinery after non-slip ﬂoor ﬁnish is completed to avoid replacement of ﬂooring at later stage.
– Select contrasting colours between bench tops and cupboard fronts to assist the visually impaired.
– Ensure the kitchen has a minimum width of 2700mm (with 1550mm clearance between benches).
– Accommodate an adjustable sink, ranging from a height of 750mm to 850mm (or allow the sink unit to be replaceable as noted above).
– Ensure the kitchen sink bowl has a maximum depth of 150mm.
– Ensure entry to the shower is level, reducing the risk of people tripping and allowing easy access for a wheelchair.
– Design shower amenities to accommodate both standing and seated showering positions.
– Specify a shower head that is vertically adjustable, or can be used by hand for maximum ﬂexibility.
– Specify lever style tapware for ease of use.
– Consider future planning: design features that will accommodate a wide range of users and their changing needs (e.g. grab and support rails)
– Allow for space along full length of bath for ease of bathing small children and cleaning the bathtub.
– Ensure that the bath is not positioned beneath a window to avoid occupants needing to climb in and out of the bath to open and close the window.
– Ensure that all ﬁttings (e.g. towel rails) are capable of supporting a person’s body weight (minimum 112kg), in case of falls.
– Ensure that at least one toilet is accessible to someone in a wheelchair or using a walking frame – this toilet must have free space on at least one side to improve accessibility.
– Ensure walls adjacent accessible toilet will accommodate grab and support rails at later date
Adaptable Design Guidelines
– Design a shower recess that is no smaller than 1160mm x 1100mm.
– Ensure shower taps are positioned for easy reach to access side of shower sliding track.
– Allow for an adjustable, detachable hand-held shower rose mounted on a slider grabrail or ﬁxed hook (plumbing and wall strengthening provision).
– Set out a grabrail in the shower, with an additional grabrail outside of shower recess.
– If separate bathroom and toilet are preferred at time of construction, a removable wall may be constructed between toilet cubicle and bathroom (non-load bearing partition installed after ﬂoor and wall ﬁnishes are completed). Vanity cupboards, toilet bowls and/or shower screens which may require relocation or modiﬁcation should be installed as removable ﬁxtures after all surrounding surfaces (tiling etc.) are completed.