Accessible housing is just as important as dentures and hearing aids for maintaining independence and quality of life, according to a NSW housing academic.
The Director of the Home Modifications Information Clearinghouse (HMInfo), Associate Professor Catherine Bridge said there is a mismatch between Australia’s housing stock and its ageing population which could lead to unnecessary health cost blowouts.
She welcomed the recommendation from a recent federal parliamentary inquiry that national accessibility standards for buildings should include residential properties, but she said more needs to be done.
Conventional audio fire alarms could be replaced by multisensory alerts to help those with impaired hearing and lifts, earth-berm bridges and gently sloped walkways could be used instead of access ramps which are common trip hazards.
“Community dwelling older people spend the majority of their time in their homes and how the home supports them is critical to their overall wellbeing,” said Associate Professor Bridge.
“It has an impact on their sense of self-efficacy, independence and protection against harm.”
“If they have to struggle against stairs to get into their home or they need to climb over lips to get in and out of the shower, they will be using a lot more energy and effort and they will feel less confident.”
Associate Professor Bridge added that the policy of ageing in place is untenable without widespread accessible design.
“Older people tend to live in older houses because most people buy their first house when they are about to have a family and their purchase is driven by the ideals of family life,” she said.
“Although many older people do downsize following their retirement from the workplace, quite a few don’t and very few people in their 60s are thinking about their later needs.
“There is poor knowledge and planning around the right design features to support ageing in place and even if people were aware of them, they are not widely available currently.”
Associate Professor Bridge said that while some developers and agencies are addressing accessibility issues in housing, laws are needed to ensure all new developments are compliant.
Particularly important are common areas and gardens in multi-dwelling developments, which are often inaccessible for people with mobility issues.