I gave a short talk at the Health, Social Care & Housing conference last week! One of a series of sessions running parallel with the main Chartered Institute of Housing Conference in Manchester from 28-30th June (#CIHhousing16).
It’s totally out of my comfort zone, but raising awareness of inclusive & accessible housing is such an important issue to me that when Habinteg kindly asked me to join them in a talk, I just had to say yes!
Habinteg are champions of accessible design and are one of the founders, and now maintainers, of Lifetime Homes standards (the widely used inclusive design standards for housing). Habinteg’s Paul Gamble chaired the session, which examined the links between accessible housing and the pressures in social care. The two other speakers were researcher Martin Wheatley (@wheatley_martin) and Michelle Horn from Centre for Accessible Environments.
Martin presented highlights from the new research he’s been carrying out (involving Habinteg, Papworth Trust, IPSOS Mori & LSE), trying to identify and quantify the REAL need for accessible housing. Such a difficult area to pin down as not all people who need increased accessibility necessarily identify themselves as disabled, and/or may not be ‘in the system’, so even these new results could be an underestimate of the real need. (And of course that’s putting aside the fact that although every family doesn’t ‘need’ their home to be accessible right now, every family, at any point in time, could need their home to be more accessible for themselves or for their wider friends and family).
Some really interesting findings were presented, which could help give context to, and generate a more widespread appreciation for, the value of inclusive and accessible design in the mainstream. The two findings that excited me most were:
- Disabled people are not mostly old people! Martin’s stats showed that over 50% of disabled people are working age people or children. I think this is really important for design, because often the perception of accessibility is ‘old age’ and this often takes the style and glamour out of it! (Not that I’m saying older people are not stylish and glamourous you understand! I know many who are! – but there does seem to be a hint of the industry not trying very hard when it comes to design + old age.
- Accessiblity features don’t put house buyers off! I think this is huge! Part of the research was a survey of a typical cross section of society (with a broadly proportionate number of disabled & non-disabled people). The question was broken down into elements (broadly similar to the lifetime homes categories) and most were seen as an advantage rather than disadvantage. It was just the very specialist items, like vertical lifts, that were deemed were off-putting (presumably to those who didn’t need them!). I think this is really valuable information to help demonstrate the desirability of accessibility!
Michelle talked of our existing housing situation in the uk. For example, at present only 6% of our homes have even the basic accessibility features, in line with the new ‘visitable’ building regulations standards (Part M: Category 1). So even if we were building 100% of homes to lifetime homes standards (or Part M: Category 2), it’s going to take us a very long time to reach anywhere near enough to house the current estimate of 20% of families with a member who has access needs. And if we are to continue on our current trajectory, only providing 10% of wheelchair accessible housing in our newbuild developments, there’s no doubt that more expensive (and disruptive) adaptations will continue to be necessary to existing properties.
My own contribution to the talk was one of two halves. Firstly our own home story, told from a family perspective, what ‘making do’ actually means for us and what we plan to do to our house – you can read part one of my talk on Habinteg’s blog.
The second half was more of a call to action – How do we shake the perception that accessibility is niche? That there isn’t inclusive design & normal design, that if society is really serious about inclusion and equality, then shouldn’t all design be inclusive? Edited to add: Habinteg have posted part two on their blog too.
I’m so glad I took part in the talk. It was great to meet & chat to the other speakers and we had some lovely feedback from people who attended.
Habinteg are following up with a day of action on Friday 8th July!
Do get involved on twitter with the #ForAccessibleHomes hashtag!
One of the things I miss about not working in the office is access to the practice library.
The internet is brilliant for finding information, ideas, images…. especially when you are researching for a blog from the comfort of your own sofa! But not everything is available online. Building standards, reglulations and technical design guides for example. I’ve also found it quite tricky finding interesting and inspiring examples of accessible housing projects online… and of course the internet is not quite the same as flicking through real paper books, with pretty pictures in. Designers do like a pretty coffee table picture book or magazine for a bit of inspiration!
It was my birthday recently and some of my lovely relatives gave me some money to spend so I thought it was about time I treated myself to some nice new books (to compete with the kids on bookshelf space!) and to get me up to date with new ideas and get some design inspiration.
So, as you do (when you want some geeky techie books and coffee table architecture books), I popped onto the RIBA Bookshops website and searched for:
ACCESSIBLE HOUSING = ‘1 product’
Ok well I’ll try:
INCLUSIVE HOMES/HOUSING = ‘1 product’
I wasn’t expecting loads of titles, but I have to say I was pretty surprised to see next to nothing come up on any of the searches I did for accessibility, inclusive design, wheelchair accessibility….! So much so, I emailed the bookshop to ask if I was missing something, but they only came back with a couple of other titles. Another big surprise was that, of all the titles I found, only 2 are post 2010! Only two accessible design titles listed in the UK’s biggest architecture bookshop published after the Equalities Act!?
It would be nice to think this is because accessible & inclusive design publications don’t need to be singled out from the general design books….. maybe one day….. but I don’t think that’s it. I just don’t think we (we, as in everyone, not just designers) have grasped the importance of accessibility for all of us, not just as a niche, not just as a token gesture.
My other theme of interest is sustainable & eco design, and it’s telling just how much a general popular interest in this concept has broadened it’s appeal, and I guess, snowballed the demand for ‘eco’ building, such that there is now a pretty good selection of specialist books for that subject, plus coverage in general architectural design books, magazines and the home design media. My searches for titles in this category came up with much more healthy results:
Eco homes/housing/house = 121/154/600 products
Green homes/house = 22/14 products
So, I don’t quite know how we start it, but for so many reasons, not least if we are serious about building an inclusive society, we really need to start an accessible design snowball ASAP….!