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:
- At least one level entrance into the dwelling (can be front, back or side).
- All doors on the main floor, all doorways wide enough (>800mm) for easy access.
- 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.