Sunday, 3 August 2008


Is your house accessible? Probably not. A recent survey in the UK found that 98% of all new, privately built dwellings are inaccessible (to wheelchair users). My anecdotal (therefore untrustworthy) experience, would suggest that that figure would be similar here in SA. What about your place of work? Or you local restaurant / café? What about your place of worship? Cinema? Doctor's surgery? Post Office?

So let's assume that your house is inaccessible. So what? No one in your house is disabled, and you certainly would not entertain the idea of inviting me around!!! Why go to the expense of making it accessible when it will never have a use?

Great question. Well, here comes the answer. A recent piece of research in the US (yes, I know all these are overseas figures, and things are different here…but please bear with me), has some fascinating findings. They predict that by 2050 (due to aging populations etc.) that 21% of all households will have at least one resident with a “long-lasting, severe mobility impairment” . Therefore (as people move houses) there is a 60% chance that any house will have to accommodate a long term disabled occupant, during the lifetime of the dwelling. However the figures are even more compelling when both short term impairments (such as injuries) & visitors are taken into account - they estimate that the figure rises to 93%.

The interesting point is that the trend towards accessible housing (so called lifetime housing) is being driven by the insurance industry in terms of cost saving. It is much more cost effective to design a house from the outset, to be accessible, rather than have to bolt on later. The sort of figures that are generally accepted is that to design any facility to be fully accessible from the outset adds 0.2% to the capital costs. Later adaptations can be as high as 10%.

It is not expected that every part of every house would be fully accessible (although that would be nice!), rather there are 3 main issues:

  1. At least one level entrance into the dwelling (can be front, back or side).
  2. All doors on the main floor, all doorways wide enough (>800mm) for easy access.
  3. At least an accessible half (but preferably full) bathroom accessible on the main floor.

The bottom line, is that it makes financial sense to design, and build our houses (and all other built environments, by extension) to be fully accessible to all. Any of us may benefit from this accessibility one day…indeed, one could suggest that we all hope that we live long enough that we will benefit.

The research paper can be read here.


Engela said...

I am in the process of buying a small bachelor's flat. It will be my first property.

The problem is: the flat is on the second floor and there is no lift.

Can I ask the body corporate about the possibility of adding a lift? Except for raising a special levy, are there any other way of obtaining funding for such a project?

Due to my budget, my choice was quite limitted. Therefor the flat on the second floor and not ground floor.

I have a couple of friends making use of wheelchairs. And they are going to attend my house warming - by means of strong friends and neighbours that are going to carry them up. However, that's not the ideal.

Guy said...

Engela, sorry I did not reply earlier...somehow your comment slipped through the many gaps (which I now hope are boarded up!)!

In most contries (including SA) private residences fall outside access regulations. So your flat would not be required by law to have a lift (in SA). But, I do think you could (and should) approach the body corporate, and (perhaps using my post??) explain to them the financial benefits of providing a lift. You could even get them them a quote as most companies will not charge for providing a quote. Often the cost of installing a lift is much less than people would expect...

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