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Accessible or universal?

Written by Angela May Published: 3 September 2019

What’s in a name? Should we refer to accessible housing, housing for the elderly, sheltered housing, disabled housing, age-friendly housing?

toilet adaptation

Is it a case of what we call things, or is it a case of how we perceive them? The thing is, if we say ‘disabled’ we picture someone in a wheelchair, and probably put them as middle aged or older.

But disability doesn’t discriminate about age. Yes it is more prevalent among older people, but that’s because everything begins to deteriorate once it passes a certain age.

Just to put it in perspective, 7% of children are disabled; 18% of working age adults are disabled; 80% of people were not born with their disability- they had an illness, an accident or similar. By contrast, less than half UK adults of pensionable age are disabled.

So ‘disability’ or accessibility affects all ages. It affects almost 20% of the population.

Are almost 20% of homes accessible?

How many homes are easy to adapt to accommodate a degree of disability?

Is it actually a change of mindset we need, to think of creating homes that suit as many people as possible? Should we be thinking about universal design?

In practical terms, it is impossible to create a truly universal design, but even small changes to the current way we do things can make a huge difference- wheelchair-wide doorways are just one example, and in this case an example that doesn’t actually cost anything to design in from the outset.

There is increasing awareness among manufacturers of fixtures and fittings that design matters. Wash & dry- or ‘smart’- toilets are a case in point. In other countries of the world, they are the ‘norm’. In the UK, they are quietly becoming an aspirational fixture, as people appreciate the enhanced hygiene and cleanliness they bring- whether or not the user has a disability.

Maybe there will be a time, not far in the future- when something designed for disabled people becomes something everyone wants to have!


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