While accessibility has come on leaps and bounds over the years, seven in every 10 people believe that their homes would not be accessible to wheelchair users according to a YouGov poll. With 8.2 million households also set to house someone over the age of 65 by 2025, the push for accessible housing has never been more important. As disability figures are also on the rise, with 45 per cent of adults over state pension age, 15 per cent of adults and six per cent of children considered disabled, homes that offer ease of care and mobility for these individuals, housing developers and homeowners are having to get creative with their in-home accessibility.
With new technologies and changing requirements to consider, just what could the future of home accessibility really look like?
The Changing Face Of Accessibility
When someone mentions an accessible home, it’s likely that the first things that spring to mind are ramps, wider doorways and completely flat floors. While these are all incredibly important for wheelchair users or those with limited mobility, technology is creating accessibility options not only for mobility issues but for other disabilities including impaired vision, hearing loss, health issues and more. Solutions like smart technology, residential elevators and more will mean those with disabilities or mobility issues can continue living in their own home independently for much longer.
The UK Government’s update to guidance, particularly that released in 2015, set out guidelines for local authorities and project management for producing and building accessible homes. The requirements outline three different categories of home – the M4(1), M4(2) and M4(3):
- M4(1) – Visitable Dwellings
- M4(2) – Accessible and Adaptable
- M4(3) – Wheelchair Accessible
While M4(1) is the regulatory minimum for all new buildings, local planning authorities can determine which level of accessibility or adaptability new builds and properties should have across M4(2) and M4(3) options. Category 2 properties (M4(2)), for example, should take into consideration everything from level access to the front and rear doors, a living area and bathroom on the ground flower and sufficient access room in hallways, doorways and each room. Upper floors should have enough room for free movement, accessible bathrooms and staircases should be wide enough for stairlifts.
Wheelchair accessible properties, or category 3 properties, should take these a step further to ensure full accessibility throughout the whole property for a wheelchair user, including lower surfaces.
While these regulations are already in place, just seven per cent of homes in England fit even just the Category 1 regulation. The future of accessibility needs to go some length to make things easier than ever for those in need of support in their home. The question is, where do they start?
Improving In-Home Movement
From building new, purpose-driven properties, to adapting existing homes to adhere to accessibility needs, the future of home access could rest in the way we move from floor to floor without restricting wheelchair users to ground-floor flats or bungalows. While stairlifts have proven to be a solution for multi-floor buildings in the past, not every staircase is suitable for one – that’s where home elevators come in.
With constantly improving technology and safety features, home lifts are now being designed to cater for smaller properties and can usually be installed anywhere in an existing home. Through-floor lifts in particular only require a hole to be cut in the ceiling to allow the lift to pass through, without the need for excessive building work or room for the mechanics. In new builds, they offer integral accessibility from the start regardless of the buyer, ensuring their home is future-proof without needing to consider adaptability in the future.
What About Smart Technology?
Just a few years ago, smart technology was the new kid on the block; It was unheard of in most households and the potential it held for making homes accessible was often overlooked. Smart technology can often go hand in hand with a number of accessibility functions, from adjustable kitchen counters and moveable bathroom suites to calling a home lift. Smart technology offers control over your home with a simple touch or even your voice, depending on the software used and the requirements of the homeowner.
Easily attainable smart technology such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home hubs are already going some way to creating an accessible home, but the possibilities are truly endless if this technology was integrated fully into a home. Planning care, ordering shopping, moving around your home and interacting with a number of things within a property could be made simpler than ever, truly offering independence to individuals that want it most.
Accessible housing still has a long way to go to cater to the country’s growing population, but the potential for truly accessible living is most definitely at our fingertips. Using the latest technology and an ever-evolving home improvement market, new homes could be the epitome of user-friendly sooner than we think.