One of the biggest problems arising in Australia for people living with disability is finding an accessible house. It’s even harder when there are limited housing options on the market.
- An accessible home looks like an everyday house but can be lived in by anyone, no matter their mobility or disability
- Smart home technology can be used to help make homes more accessible
- Renting a home can create issues with accessing a home that is appropriate
Accessible housing in Australia
In 2015, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, found that around one-third of Australia households contain a person with a disability.
This is 35.9 percent of Australia’s population or 3.2 million households in the country.
The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) released a report in 2019 outlining issues with the social housing market and the difficulty for people with disability finding an accessible home.
There is a clear shortage in the market for accessible homes, and those homes that are rentals in addition to being accessible are generally rented to someone who doesn’t need an accessible house.
Additionally, homes are not being designed with accessibility in mind for people with disability.
With one in five people in Australia having some form of disability, it makes sense that there should be more accessible housing available.
What should an accessible house have?
An accessible home looks like an everyday house you would see on any street, except anyone can enter, no matter their mobility or disability.
Inside the house, the layout should be easy to navigate around in and be able to meet the occupant’s needs while reducing the likelihood of injury.
Liveable Housing Australia, an industry leader in creating liveable housing designs in Australia, outlines seven important design guidelines that are important for making a house accessible:
- Safe, continuous and step-free path of travel from the street entrance or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level
- At least one level entrance into the dwelling
- Internal doors and corridors that do no impede movement between spaces
- Toilets located on the ground level that are easily accessible
- Bathrooms with a hobless (walk-in) shower recess
- Reinforced walls near the toilet, shower and bath to allow the installation of grab rails later on
- Stairways are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and have enough room for future adaptions
While these guidelines do not include specific adaptions for every disability, it does provide the foundations in making a home fully accessible.
In Australia, around 11 percent of people with disability have modified their home.
In many of these cases home modifications are needed due to a poor initial design, like door widening, modifications in the bathroom, toilet and laundry areas, changes to the structure of a home and grab rails.
Other options for modifying homes include adding ramps and removing steps.
Implementing appropriate flooring in areas that can get wet or are slip-resistant can reduce falls in all areas of the home.
For a person with vision impairment, changing up the lighting intensity or levels can make a home more accessible, along with guide rails through the house.
Hallways and door frames should be large enough to fit a mobility scooter or wheelchair, which means no one will become stuck while navigating around the house.
The aim of accessible housing is not to limit a person with disability, it’s important for house modifications to meet the individual’s needs, whether the disability is physical or not.
It can be a good idea to get an occupational therapist involved who can give direction on what can make a home accessible.
Technology improvements for the home
Smart home technology will soon become key to living well at home with disability.
Already, people have long been using appliances that help with vision impairment, neurological disability or physical disability.
A good example is a cup which is able to make the kettle pourer with a vision impairment aware that their cup is nearly full of hot water.
Technology is constantly developing and creating new ways to safely live at home.
For example, an electronic thermostat or lighting could be connected to a smart device which allows you to change the temperature or turn on lights in your home easily.
Wifi and smartphones have made life a lot simpler for people with disability. Daily chores are more manageable since everything is connected and ready to use at a click of a button.
A lot of organisations are currently working on systems that analyse daily patterns of activity and alert an outside contact if something may be wrong.
There is already technology that can operate on touch, voice control or eye gaze command.
A person with a sensory disability can operate devices with pre-programmed commands which takes the difficulty out of everyday chores.
Whereas a person with an intellectual disability could benefit from a one-touch shower system, automatic bedding or cooking system set up.
There are so many different ways to use technology in a home that can better the living experience for a person with disability.
Finding a rental that fits your needs is becoming more and more difficult.
While the Government is promoting the construction of adaptable or accessible homes as a sound future investment for rental by property investors, there is still a lot of groundwork to be done to have more available accessible housing.
Usually, if a rental listing doesn’t say wheelchair accessible, your best bet would be to check with the rental agent if it would be accessible for a person with a physical disability.
There a number of websites, both Government or industry run, which have listings for accessible homes.
It’s a good idea to shop around and look for the best options that suit your personal care needs.
What do you look for in a home to make sure it is accessible for you? Tell us in the comment section below.