Future-proofing accessibility

15 January 2024 4:50PM

Mary* is a young professional woman who thought about what can and will happen in life when buying her unit off-the-plan.

‘As an occupational therapist, I support people to leave hospital after injury or surgery and often need to assess their home environment for safety and quality of life and sustainability.

Sometimes home modifications are quite easy, and we can get people home from hospital with minimal fuss. But more often, these are bigger jobs that require structural modifications to existing homes that are impractical or unaffordable.

I knew the developer and builder should be able to offer accessible homes – the common areas were designed to be accessible. I was buying off-the-plan and I wanted to be able to invite over my friends and family that use wheelchairs or mobility aids. And I was thinking about my parents ageing.

I asked for changes to bring it to silver level housing design guidelines to minimise the need for or expense of any future modifications.

I was surprised at how much of the educating I was doing, given commitments that have already been made by the housing industry to accessible design.

I wanted step-free entry through the front door and into the bathroom and shower recess – basically level access throughout. The bathroom changes included installing reinforced walls and adjusting orientation of the toilet and hand basin to allow for better access. The developers weren’t prepared to change the width of the front door or hallway, or access onto the balcony.

Some of the modifications weren’t done well. The bathroom slab had to be modified and hand basin in the bathroom doesn’t look good despite there being an accessible handbasin in the common area within the complex showing that it can be done well. A consistent standard will just make this easier for everyone.

When I think of good accessibility, there shouldn’t be anything visually exceptional. My unit doesn’t look different to the rest in the complex.

I’m really thankful that Queensland is leading the way with accessible housing. The 2032 Olympics and Paralympics is a great opportunity to ‘go for gold’ as the standard in all new homes.

There’s still a way to go for the building and construction industry to understand and offer accessibility. I'm really looking forward to it being something that I don't have to ask for and something that I can expect. I think that would be just life changing for a lot of people.’

* name changed for privacy reasons