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Ensuring a person-centred approach to providing accessible and inclusive homes

Jacquel Runnalls, Specialist Housing Occupational Therapists, London Borough of Wandsworth Regeneration Team

As highlighted in Habinteg’s research into local plans, unlike other parts of the UK, London has had planning policies requiring accessible and adaptable housing since 2004, showing that it can be done. But building the homes is only part of the story. Applying the relevant expertise and understanding of peoples’ needs can ensure that new housing is truly adaptable and becomes a livable home for the people moving in.

There is an increasing recognition of the value that a Specialist Housing Occupational therapist (OT) can bring in ensuring new build housing is truly accessible and adaptable, whilst providing significant resource efficiencies.

An example of this is my role with the London Borough of Wandsworth’s Regeneration team. The LB Richmond and Wandsworth employ a Specialist Housing OT within the Strategy and Development Team and, having realised the benefits, the Regeneration Team created my post with the aim of ensuring the estate regeneration meets the needs of the whole community. This role brings a different perspective and level of expertise, providing a practical and person-centred approach to understanding the barriers disabled and older people face, including working with existing tenants and leaseholders to identify current and future housing requirements.

My role is to ensure that the Council and its development partners design accessible homes (across tenure) that not only comply with regulations, but follow good practice principles and incorporate modern innovations at every stage, from pre-planning through to post occupancy. This includes providing advice on general housing ADM (4) Category 2: Accessible and Adaptable dwellings, ADM (4) Category 3: Wheelchair dwellings and specialist housing, including some public buildings and the public realm. We aim to provide homes that are as flexible as possible with one building even including a six-bedroom/ten person wheelchair accessible property which can be divided into two three bedroom wheelchair accessible properties. We also help meet specific household requirements such as re-allocating a family from an accessible flat on the ground floor to the 4th floor flat so that their disabled son could have a view from the balcony, in addition to providing ceiling track hoists and a height adjustable shower bench.

I have proposed fixtures and fittings across all housing that are easy to use, provide flexibility, but which don’t look institutional such as sanitaryware, taps, door handles, and door locking mechanisms that can be operated single-handed and automated. We are also providing genuinely ‘adaptable’ Category 2 bathrooms which are constructed as full wet rooms with the bath placed over the top. This reduces future adaptation costs, minimises disruption and enables a person to remain in their home longer. By also recommending specific, less institutional products in wheelchair accessible dwellings from the outset  we have reduced the need for further intervention. For example fitting a combined shower riser/grabrail in a wet room showers with, wall mounted ergonomic manually height adjustable shower seats means less need for additional grab rails or OT involvement. Accessible kitchens are contemporary and non-institutional, providing electronically operated adjustable height worktop/hob/sink with concealed pipework and wiring to accommodate current and future household requirements.

The benefits to these approaches are hopefully self-evident - savings are realised by reducing the need for adaptations and disruption across all stages i.e. from planning, building on-site and after the household moves in. The approach also allows us to use standardised, accessible, aesthetically pleasing, quality products across all homes. A strategic resource conscious approach that results in more attractive, contemporary, inclusive home environments!

About the author:

Jacquel Runnalls has worked for over 20 years as a Specialist Housing OT and inclusive environment’s specialist. She is a member of the Access Association, British Standards B559 committee, and is the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Specialist Section in Housing’s Co-opted Lead in Accessibility and Inclusive Design (having gained an MSc of the same title). Past experience has included the Mayor of London’s Accessible Housing Register, being a member of the Access group for the English Government’s Technical Housing Standards Review, giving evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry on Housing for Older People, co-authoring Habinteg’s 3rd Edition Wheelchair Housing Design Guide.

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