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Designing for Disability

Designing to prevent or assist disability

KJ Architects have been saying for many years that all housing should be designed for all forms of disability except perhaps for those who are perhaps severely disabled and who need special care in order to live a comfortable life.

There tends to be only a token effort to prepare for potential disability and compliance with the Building Regulations is all that is needed. However, most people who can be regarded as disabled, are in fact largely disabled by their environment.

There must be greater efforts in the design of general needs housing across the board to avoid individuals being curtailed by their environment.

Designing Housing for those with Disabilities

A loss of mobility is the most common form of disability. This can take many forms such as difficulty in standing, walking, moving about, using stairs or steps, bending and stretching.  It often results in long periods of inactivity, being confined to a bed or chair and often there is an increased risk of falling.  Manual dexterity can also fall into this description and more often causes problems of operating door handles, taps, window catches, opening windows, dressing and undressing etc.

Most people suffering from mobility problems require wheelchairs, walking sticks or frames, and need assistance in all but the simplest of tasks.  Most sheltered housing schemes and certainly general housing were never intended to accommodate this type of impairment and, as a result, the home may gradually become a prison for many whose impairment deteriorates over time. Why should the majority of individuals be segregated from their community because their home is not suitably designed in the first place?

If carers are required to attend the home to provide help should also be taken into consideration when designing the home. Carers often suffer because space requirements are not suitable for them to give assistance.  For example, in many existing homes there is a small bath in a small bathroom located within a flat.  Not only will the bathroom not accommodate a wheelchair, but there is also no space for a carer to stand and lift either to the bath or the WC.  Consideration needs to be paid to the Decent Homes Standard which states that: ‘walls in the bathroom and WC should be capable of taking adaptations such as handrails.’

Unless this is considered at an early stage in the design process then major adaptations could be needed to provide this level of support. For example, timber studwork walls can in some modern houses be very thin and would not provide sufficient fixing points let alone the weight of a person pulling on a handrail.

Designs with all users in mind

KJ Architects have seen many times; a bath being removed from a bathroom to be replaced with a flush floor shower. A very commendable provision. However, if the doors leading to the bathroom are not wide enough for a wheelchair then the bathroom is still out of bounds to a large section of the impaired society.

Bedrooms often pose similar problems with the room being so small that only a single bed can be accommodated which is often located against the wall.  Door widths prevent wheelchair access, no turning space and no space on either side of the bed for carers to assist. Lifetime Homes Criteria specifies that in relation to bedrooms: ‘the design and specification should provide a reasonable route for a potential hoist from main bedroom to bathroom.’

Light switches and sockets are often incorrectly located in height and door handles and window catches situated so that a wheelchair user cannot reach them. Lifetime Homes criteria specifies that; ‘switches, sockets, ventilation and service controls should be at a height usable by all i.e. between 450 and 1200mm from the floor.’

Lifetime Homes criteria should in our opinion be applied to all housing design, not a selected few. There is often no contact with the world outside the flat, either physically or visually and hence the residents become trapped in their own home.

Contact KJ Architects

There are many other forms of impairment, too many to cover in this article. But KJ Architects shall write other chapters on this subject in an effort to make it more understandable about what can be done from design stage, for very little or no extra cost.

KJ Architects offer sustainable architectural services in London that are completed with the user in mind. We bring an innovative approach to our designs and ensure that each and every user is considered when creating a space. To speak to a member of the KJ Architects team, please contact us online or call us directly on 01638 662393.



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    96 Kensington High Street London W8 4SG
    Studio 2 4 The Highlands Exning Newmarket Suffolk CB8 7NT
    T: 01638 662393
    Designing to prevent or assist disability