Our inclusive home story – Second part of guest blog from Vaila Morrison | Latest news

Our inclusive home story – Second part of guest blog from Vaila Morrison

Here’s the second part of Vaila Morrison’s accessible homes and inclusive guest blog for us. As we built up to the #ForAccessibleHomes campaign day, Vaila spoke at the CIH Health and Housing conference to explain her perspective on the issues

Vaila’s excellent blog – http://www.inclusivehome.co.uk and twitter presence @inclusivehome – are a great resource for anyone interested in accessible homes, inclusive design and a personal perspective on the challenges families across the country face. 

The first part of Vaila’s guest blog can be found on the news pages of the website.

Inclusive design isn't niche

In addition to our legislation, I think we need somehow to change perceptions of accessible design in the mainstream design world. The house building industry & homestyle media seem to pigeonhole design very much as ‘wheelchair friendly’ or ‘normal’. 

But shouldn’t all homes be as accessible as possible? 

Most of us begin life ‘on wheels’ and many of us will end life on wheels too (not to mention the whole spectrum of needs in between). It would ease so much (mental & physical) pressure on people, and on the health and social care system, if homes accommodated them easily, no matter their ability, without having to go through disruptive changes at a difficult time in their lives. So they don’t have to make do, or even have to move home, into an extra care facility or get stuck in hospital for longer than they need to be. 

For new housing, Lifetime Homes is exactly this, a home that considers a whole lifetime’s needs. And, other than the odd quirky self build, I don’t understand why we wouldn’t want all new homes to meet this? 

And why not upgrade existing homes too? 

Shouldn’t it be normal practice to consider accessibility improvements when we do significant changes to our homes? I guess it could seem negative to think about old age or accidents when we look to buy, build or do up our homes, but most of us have insurance and pensions for those things don’t we? Why not think about future proofing our homes as a physical insurance policy? 

And looking from the other direction, why focus on what people can’ t do? What about the things an accessible home can enable people to do? Homes that support people to reach their potential and enjoy life! 

Inclusive design is design for everyone, it’s not only about wheelchair turning circles, grab rails or stair lifts. It’s also about making life easier for people with prams & buggies, for crawlers, toddlers, kids with scooters, people wheeling cases, bringing in the weekly shop or moving furniture…and also about being welcoming for friends and family  whose needs  may be different to our own. 

I love this definition by Jos Boys in ‘Doing Disability Differently’: 

“The boundaries between disability and ability are ambiguous and porous....disability and ability need to be explored together not separately”.

There’s no reason why an accessible house shouldn’t be an amazing, stylish and beautiful home! 

In fact, how can a home be ‘ideal’ if it’s not inclusive!? 

On that note, I also don’t think a home can really be sustainable if it’s not inclusive. I feel strongly that good accessible design should be embraced more by the sustainable design culture. It’s frustrating that sustainability is often equated with energy efficiency only. 

A zero energy building that doesn’t meet the needs of the users and cannot adapt is just not sustainable. It needs to be a holistic process. 

I’d like to see some of the new home design standards place more emphasis on accessibility and strengthen it’s perceived value as key to quality design: 

Home Quality Mark: The voluntary new standard introduced by the BRE, has a brief reference to space standards within the Health & Wellbeing category. I think accessibility should be bumped much higher up the hierarchy. 

Built for Life: A certification of home & neighbourhood quality, which doesn’ t give reference to home design or standards at all, other than compliance with planning standards. I think this is a missed opportunity to encourage housebuilders to place more value on accessibility. 

I also think it would be worth investigating the benefits of local authority investment in long term vision for Disabled Facilities Grant projects and perhaps investment in general PR to encourage all householders to consider accessibility improvements, as has been the case for energy saving measures in recent years. 

I’d love to see more inspiration and information out in the mainstream media too, about the benefits of inclusive and accessible design for everyone. There is an occasional article in the design mags or feature TV shows, and (of course!) there is the gold standard - DIYSOS Big Build! However these features tend to include a disabled family member and touching back story. How often is there any mention of accessibility or inclusion otherwise? Why not discuss pram and buggy access in the context of the typical young pregnant couple embarking on their grand design?  We need to shake of the perception that accessibility is niche and only for a narrow demographic. 

It’s not just for the aging population (which of course is a pretty massive demographic in itself!). Inclusive design is about multi-generations, for young people and for families

But essentially inclusive design is just well considered planning & flexibility. If you watch a few episodes of Grand Designs or read a home design magazine they are full of lovely wide open plan spaces, level garden decks etc. Lots of ideas that are completely compatible with inclusive design, and are ideal for wheelchair turning circles! 

Lifetime homes is an extension of what people are already aspiring to. With an extra layer of thought added. 

From a purely commercial point of view, government statistics are telling us that 20% of families have a member who needs better accessibility on the high street (the purple pound!) so shouldn’t housebuilders & agents be seeing this as an opportunity too? Good accessible design should be good sellable design! 

I think the main challenge is to demonstrate to people, both in the industry and users and consumers, that there isn’t inclusive design and normal design, that if society is really serious about inclusion and equality, all design should be inclusive.