Griffith University has played a key role in an innovative campaign to secure mandatory minimum accessibility standards in the construction industry, a move that will improve the lives of people living with a disability and seniors around Australia.
From September 2022, all new houses must be built to the Livable Housing Design Silver Level accessibility standard in the National Construction Code, which includes seven core design elements to ensure greater levels of safety and accessibility.
“This change to the standards will mean that eventually, housing in the community will be more likely to suit the needs of people with a range of disabilities so they will be able to get on with their lives sooner,” Menzies Health Institute Queensland Disability and Rehabilitation Program Director Professor Elizabeth Kendall said.
“Home is a place where we should feel safest and most comfortable, but for many Australians with disability, their home does not meet their needs.”
Professor Kendall said the The Hopkins Centre had partnered with Building Better Homes campaign to lobby for these important reforms.
“This campaign was extremely important given years of research conducted at Griffith University’s Hopkins Centre, focused on universal design that allows people with disabilities to enjoy the same privileges as other citizens,” Professor Kendall said.
“Research conducted by The Hopkins Centre shows that when suitable housing is not available, many people with serious injuries remain in hospital for much longer than is necessary.
“With few options in the community, they are often forced to wait until modified housing becomes available.”
Professor Kendall, who also chairs the Griffith University Disability Advisory Committee, called the reform a “huge win”.
Griffith University senior lecturer Dr Dinesh Palipana OAM, who is an emergency physician and also lives with quadriplegia, rejoiced at the move, after fiercely pushing for the change in standard.
“Going into the future, it means all new houses will have a minimum standard, so new stock will be accessible for a lot of people, you won’t have to do modifications and it also means a lot of people will be able to stay in their homes rather than going into care facilities or group living settings,” Dr Palipana said.
For Dr Palipana, the standards mean more housing options, when previously it had been near impossible to find something to suit unless building it from scratch.
“I have been looking for accessible housing for a long time and it’s very difficult to find a place,” Dr Palipana said.
“If you wanted to retrofit, it’s quite costly.
“The work that we are doing is future proofing housing for all Australians, including seniors and those living with a disability.”
“Most of us will grow to be old and it enables people to live independently and in their home for longer.”
A Gold Standard will also be included in the National Construction Code as a ‘technical referral’, meaning states and territories can decide to upgrade to Gold voluntarily.
Professor Kendall said in most cases, simple things could improve the accessibility of a home and make them more easily modified in the future.
“These changes are not complex or costly, but they can pave the way for more significant changes later,” she said.
“There will always be challenging circumstances where accessibility is difficult to but at least we are on a positive pathway.”
Professor Kendall acknowledged the important role of key groups such as Livable Housing Australia, The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design Australia and the Queenslanders with Disability Network for helping make the reform a reality.
This advocacy supports Griffith’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of good health and wellbeing, and reduced inequalities.
The seven core design elements in the Livable Housing Design Silver Level:
1. A safe continuous and step free path of travel from the street entrance and / or parking area to a dwelling entrance that is level.
2. At least one, level (step-free) entrance into the dwelling.
3. Internal doors and corridors that facilitate comfortable and unimpeded movement between spaces.
4. A toilet on the ground (or entry) level that provides easy access.
5. A bathroom that contains a hobless shower recess.
6. Reinforced walls around the toilet, shower and bath to support the safe installation of grabrails at a later date.
7. Stairways are designed to reduce the likelihood of injury and also enable future adaption.