Shouldn’t all homes be inclusive?

Originally posted on Clos-O-Mat & Building Talk

Before my children came along and I became a full time parent carer, I worked in architectural practice.  Most of my design experience has been in home design, from individual house alterations to large scale newbuild and refurbishment projects.

Rough sketch of a house planI have to say I particularly enjoy the challenge of getting stuck in to an individual home project.  It’s extremely rewarding to see how much of a difference a bit of lateral thinking, and sometimes just a few small changes, can make to the way a house works for a family.  Perhaps by releasing a bit more breathing space through changes to the layout, adding better storage to make rooms feel less cluttered or maybe extending out or up to add extra rooms.

For me it’s important to take a broad view, think about how a family uses the spaces now, and in the future.  Are the room functions in the right places?  Is there any under-utilised space? Can circulation be simplified?

Becoming a mum to my little girl with developmental disabilities has reignited my passion for encouraging more widespread consideration of accessible and inclusive design in home design, as well as places, spaces and products.

I’m also a keen advocate of sustainable design (a much, probably over, used term!), and am passionate about improving the sustainability of our new and existing homes.  But by this I don’t just mean energy efficiency, that is just a part of what good sustainable design should be.

Sustainability is also about longevity, cost effectiveness and minimising waste.  If a home is built with flexibility in mind from the start, that seems to me to be fundamental to the sustainability ethos – in that it will last longer, cost less over the lifetime of the house and be changeable without being wasteful.

Designing a home for a whole lifetime’s needs (to standards like lifetime homes), will make subsequent alterations as unobtrusive and cost effective as possible and, quite apart from anything else, if you reach a time in your, or a loved one’s, life when greater accessibility becomes more critical, invasive building work is probably the last thing you will want to think about!

Accessibility also nicely slots in to the health and wellbeing aspect of sustainable design – why not make sure our homes more welcoming to ALL of our friends and family whose needs may be different to our own (perhaps granny with a walking aid, or your newly crawling niece or nephew?).

However for some reason inclusive design still doesn’t seem to be seen as a mainstream concept.  There’s a perception that accessibility is only for wheelchair users. House design is either ‘wheelchair friendly’ or not, and there really is an acute shortage of the ‘wheelchair friendly’ variety.

It’s widely acknowledged that there is a housing crisis in the UK at the moment, with particular shortages in the south east of England and this compounds the shortage of accessible homes.

EJ in her standing frame facing her baby brother in a bouncerSomehow the idea that inclusive design (or even better accessible or universal design) is of benefit to us all, isn’t being embraced!  I guess if you are young and fit it’s easy to be oblivious as to how our environment and buildings can make life difficult (or even impossible) for some people, but if you get injured and have to use crutches or a wheelchair, or even try to push a pram or wheel a large suitcase around, the environment can suddenly appear very inhospitable.

One of my dreams is to see inclusive design become ‘everyday’, for there no longer to be any need to differentiate inclusive design as a separate, niche, concept.  I want to see fantastic examples of accessible homes featured on TV makeover shows, and in the homestyle magazines, so that disabled people and their families are presented with inspirational examples of how fantastic their homes can be, and (perhaps more importantly) so that non disabled people see inclusive design as an interesting and exciting design approach for life-long happy homes – to break the perception that accessibility is all ugly plastic grab rails and old fashioned stair lifts.

I want to see a celebration of design that is flexible for a variety of needs, design that not only works for you, your children and your grandchildren but that is stylish and ideal homes worthy!

Good inclusive design should allow everyone to be able to participate as fully with family life (as they want to!) as naturally as possible – what can be more valuable than that?

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15 Comments

  1. October 24, 2016 / 10:19 pm

    Inclusive design in homes would benefit so many. In our current home our son had to use a commode in the lounge for three years before adaptions could be made to our bathroom.

    We can’t even get in with the wheelchair at his grandparents’ house.

  2. March 18, 2017 / 9:59 pm

    You are right in what you say- as a able bodied person, I do not give it a thought about how accessible a home is. It would be fantastic if they could make all future homes inclusive. Not just to help those who have disabilities, but like you say, us too as we age. With an aging population this is so important.

  3. March 18, 2017 / 10:19 pm

    Reading this again and it is reinforced in my mind that inclusive design should be insisted upon. As my son grows, his world shrinks. His best friend moved house recently and we can no longer visit them, yet the house they now live in isn’t that old. Access should have been part of the planning.

    Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday.

  4. March 18, 2017 / 10:23 pm

    Our home was inclusive but we built an upstairs so I guess it’s not…but for the most part it is. #KCACOLS

    • vaila
      March 18, 2017 / 10:35 pm

      Hi Lydia! That sounds fab! Your home sounds great! I don’t think an upstairs disqualifies you! 🙂 It’s more about being able to welcome people into your home and being able to adapt if you need greater accessibility yourselves in the future!

  5. March 19, 2017 / 3:23 am

    I can not imagine how maddening it is to have so many places including HOMES still be non inclusive as a parent to a special needs kid.

    #KCACOLS

  6. March 19, 2017 / 2:15 pm

    How lovely would it be if homes were built in this way, where they were inclusive in a beautiful way, rather than ‘making do’ with adaptations that are sometimes shoehorned in. x #KCACOLS

    • March 19, 2017 / 2:48 pm

      Yes exactly! Beautiful, modern, inclusive living!

  7. March 19, 2017 / 3:26 pm

    I’ve never thought about the need to make homes inclusive but I think that’s because I’ve never been in the position to need it to be. As soon as you mentionned it made me assess my own home and it would be a nightmare for anyone with mobility issues to even get it. I agree, inclusive design for new homes sounds like a great idea… why wouldn’t we?! #kcacols

    • March 19, 2017 / 4:36 pm

      It’s really not something you think about until it becomes a challenge (like most things in life!), it’s my dream that access just becomes part of ‘normal’ design and we don’t have to really think about it!?

  8. March 21, 2017 / 12:16 pm

    This is a great post and something that really needs to be made more mainstream. You are totally right about if you suddenly have to take a pushchair or something around with you, you are not welcome in so many places and by that I mean the design of many shops, homes and public attractions are just not accessible which is truly awful. As a family who rents and in this area can only afford flats, the struggle to find a groundfloor flat or building with lift is almost impossible but with a pushchair I need that. I can’t imagine how hard it would be if our children had additional needs. #KCACOLS

    • March 28, 2017 / 9:17 pm

      Thank you so much! Yes, you’re so right, ‘we’ (society I guess) have a lot to learn about inclusion in all areas of life!

  9. March 31, 2017 / 2:54 pm

    So refreshing to read a family focused post about something meaningful but also rarely discussed. Really found this post interesting.

    Ps. Your pre mummy career sounds so interesting.

    #KCACOLS

    • April 2, 2017 / 7:10 pm

      Thank you! Fingers crossed family focussed inclusive design will become the next big thing!

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