Despite the claim of disability advocates that some citizens have waited years for access to accessible housing, the latest edition of the National Construction Code failed to present mandatory accessibility regulations. And this need extends well beyond physically challenged citizens, to older people and parents with infants in prams.
Melinda Montgomery, a disability advocate and osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) patient, has experienced more than 100 broken bones and uses a wheelchair for mobility.
Her use of the wheelchair necessitates that her home be designed with wider hallways, a more sizable shower, and lower placed benchtops and light switches.
Yet she even has experienced difficulty with the finding of a remotely level home with no steps featured anywhere in the design. She found the public housing list too long for her liking, and too lacking in accessible homes.
She said that she finally found an adaptable home only when her physician constructed new apartments in her native community of Dapto–and with her specifically in mind.
The latest National Construction Code was released this May, but included no mandatory accessibility regulations. And while certain community councils are making motions in this direction–in Brisbane, for example, the city offers a rebate to developers who are making their new houses and apartments universally accessible–others are making no such moves.
According to Liveable Housing Australia, proposed universal housing standards, at the silver level, require the cultivation of a secure, continuous, and step-free travel path that leads from the street entrance and/or parking area to a level dwelling entry; interior doors and corridors that allow for comfortable, unimpeded movement between spaces; a ground- or entry-level toilet that is easily accessible; a lavatory that boasts a step-free shower recess; reinforced walls surrounding the bath, shower and toilet to facilitate the installation of safety grabrails; and a continuous handrail lining the sides of any stairway with an elevation that exceeds more than one metre.
At the gold level, proposed universal housing standards include more generous dimensions to adhere to the vast majority of the core liveable housing design elements, and the introduction of extra elements in spaces that include the kitchen and bedroom.
At the platinum level, these standards entail design elements that would accommodate the experience of ageing in place, along with individuals faced with higher mobility needs; and call for more generous dimensions to suit the majority of the core liveable design elements, while also incorporating extra elements for the living room and the residential flooring.
The City of Sydney supplies guidelines to developers, and is developing a housing plan that will offer accessible housing. A city representative states that, with 20 percent of the Australian populace living with physical challenges and an ageing population, the call for universally designed, accessible and adaptable housing is bound to expand.
The council does not currently impose mandatory provisions to guarantee that homes are rendered universally accessible to a higher standard.
Guidelines created by Liveable Housing Australia, a group that drives and ensures industry best practice, specify that as elevating numbers of baby boomers remain in their own homes, a more intense need for more age-friendly accommodation will arise.
Kylie Knight, a representative of the Shoalhaven Council’s Disability Advisory Committee, said that city councils needed to come forth and guarantee the increased accessibility of new homes, particularly in the form of medium-density buildings.
The committee issued a recommendation earlier this year that all medium-density housing come complete with a platinum level of accessibility. The council voted against the recommendation.
Knight says that people in need of all levels of access–including the elderly and parents with prams—must be accommodated; citing also the costs of retroactively fitting homes with these accommodations. She is calling on community councils to take action.
Montgomery agreed that more laws need to be enacted to address this issue; to ensure affordable, accessible housing for everyone.