December 19, 2018

Accessibility as a Design Priority

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Accessibility as a design trend is fast gaining consideration in Perth custom home designs.

There are a variety of approaches to designing a new house. However, all fall into one of three categories. These categories are livability, accessibility, and adaptability.

Briefly, liveability means focussing on how liveable the house will be, and designing in order to meet the requirements of most occupants without the need for specialisation in design or products. Accessibility means a design ethic that focuses on meeting the requirements of those who intend to be using or accessing it, such as the elderly or the disabled. And, lastly, adaptability is a design ethic that focuses on creating a home that is liveable, but incorporates, from the outset, the ability to change or adapt to become an accessible house, should the need arise.

It is important that the house must be useful for all occupants. This means that when designing, liveability is an essential concept. Accessibility is added on to liveability, and has a focus on the specific needs of the occupant(s) needing accessibility modifications. This is important, because not all modifications are required for all situations/persons. A generic approach will not work. It is important that we, as builders, are able to meet the specific needs of the individual, which helps to keep costs to a minimum and allows for flexibility in adding future modifications, if needed.

Design Modifications We Offer

We offer a number of modifications for the owner who needs more accessibility from the new home. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Wider passageways and doorways (this makes it easier to navigate the home using crutches, a walker, or a wheelchair)
  • Wider door frames, for better access to all rooms in the home
  • Ensuite bathrooms that are easier to get into (even with a wheelchair)
  • Toilets, showers, and baths with grab-rails within easy reach
  • Showers with no step, so that wheelchairs can get in easily
  • Spring-loaded kitchen cabinet drawers, rather than cupboards, as well as lower bench tops for ease of access
  • Spring loaded rails for built-in cupboards and robes, which lower for access, and then raise for storage
  • Drawers in the pantry, so that items can be easily accessed and pulled down, rather than having to reach for items
  • Light switches, power points, and door handles that are situated lower, within easy reach from a wheelchair
  • A larger garage, to allow the occupant to get into and out of a vehicle from a wheelchair
  • Ramps from the path to the porch or house, as well as from the garage to the house

The bathroom is probably the most important room in the house when designing for accessibility, as this is usually the smallest room, but has a need for the widest range of motion. We focus our design on making the bathroom big enough to accommodate a wheelchair or other assistive device, as well as big enough to move around comfortably in (especially if someone provides assistance for the person in the wheelchair). This will also include, as noted above, removing the step at the shower, placing easy to reach grab rails, as well as placing taps and switches at an appropriate height, and minimising the amount of glass used to make more efficient use of the space in the bathroom.

The Importance of Accessibility

The issue of accessibility as a design approach is going to become more important as more and more older Australians are encouraged to live in their homes for longer, before going into aged care facilities. In addition, there has, in recent times, been a bigger focus on encouraging people who need assistive care but prefer to live at home. In addition, many younger people are deciding to have their parents live with them, rather than going the route of aged care, with the associated high costs.

There are many benefits for the homeowner when these three design criteria are considered in the planning stage of building your dream home. Firstly, it ensures that the home is liveable for the longest period of time over our lifetime. This reduces costs in needing to move to another home, and allows the occupants to be embedded in their home and community for longer. Secondly, it provides for the needs of the greatest number of occupants, and ensures that all needs are fully met. Thirdly, it ensures that the home is safe for the occupants to live in. Fourthly, it ensures the home can easily be adapted, should the need arise, which removes the need to find alternative housing, should life circumstances change. And, fifthly, it means that the house has a higher market value, making building it a great investment for resale.

I'm the Managing Director at Edward Brewer Homes. I’ve been working as a builder in Perth for over 30 years. In this time, my team and I have built hundreds of homes throughout Perth. We know this region better than we know the back of our own hands.