Designing for the elderly and people with disabilities
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 homes. 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:
- Accessible Housing
- Universal Design
- 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.
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.
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. 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.
- 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.
- 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.