Designing homes for everyone
Contrary to popular belief, inclusive design can be both attractive and affordable. What we need is better advice and information so we can build accessible and inclusive homes that work for all of us.
In this guest blog, Jacquel Runnalls - Specialist Housing Occupational Therapist & Inclusive Environments Specialist - gives examples of how small tweaks to design can make products accessible for the home.
Over many years as a specialist housing occupational therapist, I have seen first-hand the importance of inclusive products and design within the home. My current role with Wandsworth’s Regeneration team aims to ensure that the Council and its development partners design accessible, adaptable and inclusive homes (across tenure) that not only comply with regulations but incorporate good practice principles and modern innovations.
Sadly, people's perceptions of accessibility and adaptations can be negative due to misunderstandings around products looking institutional. However, with the influence of roles such as mine, and as highlighted by recent research from Ageing Better, easy to use products and design can still be attractive, and affordable.
The misconception that attractive, accessible, inclusive products and design are more expensive doesn’t have to be the case, particularly if incorporated from the start. Additionally, including future adaptability, such as wet floor showers under baths, provides wide-ranging benefits, can save time, disruption and money on future adaptations as well as making people less prone to accidents and hospital admissions. The social implications of well-designed homes are also often overlooked despite reducing loneliness and isolation, as well as making it easier to receive disabled and older visitors.
Inclusive, accessible and adaptable design should not be an add-on or a nice to have. It is therefore imperative that we actively promote their marketability and desirability from the outset.
The examples below show how advice from a Housing Occupational Therapist, even on seemingly minor detail, can provide more accessible, adaptable, and inclusive homes.
Front Entrance Doors and door ironmongery
Using a slam-shut door locking mechanism not only meets requirements in terms of security and fire, but is attractive and easier to use for the following reasons:
- A person does not have to use two hands simultaneously to lift the handle to engage/turn the lock which can be difficult and confusing to use and ironically may leave people less secure if they cannot engage the lock, effectively leaving doors unlocked and open to intruders
- The handles are easy to grip and operate, and contrast visually against the door
- This specific door locking mechanism can be automated in recognition that heavy fire/security doors are a common barrier to access
Bathroom toilets and taps
This toilet provides a slimmer profile, is not too low so makes getting on and off easier, has an ergonomic flush handle that is easier to grip (or even operate with an elbow) - as opposed to more institutional looking ‘accessible’ toilets and/or those where a person has to push a fiddly button into the top of the cistern.
Additionally, basin lever taps (pictured below) that have temperature markers can be used single-handed and are easier to grip and understand.
Kitchen Fixtures and fittings
This simple electric hob provides tonal contrast between the rings and knobs to make them easier to see. The knobs to the front reduce the need for a person to reach over pans to adjust the controls, and the hob has a minimal lip at the edge making it easier to slide - rather than lift - pans on and off.
Another important kitchen fixture is a contemporary monobloc/dual tall ‘swan’ neck swivel taps that enable a person to fill pans or a kettle from the drainer reducing the need to lift them in and out of the sink. Temperature markers also avoid confusion and shorter levers look attractive whilst helping people with poor grip and/or wet hands. Conversely if levers are too long they not only look institutional but can catch clothing/sleeves.
Hydraulic stop cock ‘Sure Stop’ and remote switch
Finally, a ‘Sure Stop’ remote switch can be positioned in a location that is quicker and easier to access and operate than a traditional stop cock, acting in a similar way to a light switch.
These examples demonstrate how small, basic tweaks to design, with a bit of thought, can make products easier to use for a much broader consumer group. They can often be sourced cheaply on the market so need not cost more either.
Whilst there seems to be an increasing knowledge around inclusive design, it is often initially applied to the public built environment and not necessarily products or the home environment. Unfortunately, information isn’t readily available to those who need it most, including housebuilders and tradespeople. This is where trademark and mainstream initiatives such as accessible and inclusive kitchen and bathroom displays in DIY/home stores would help get the word out there.
Fundamentally better advice and information is needed to support people to build accessible and inclusive homes, so that they work for all of us, whatever our age. I hope that by highlighting some easy to use features that can be installed in homes I can help to raise awareness about what is possible.
The views and opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or positions of the Centre for Ageing Better.
Hero image credit: Symphony Kitchens.