Searching for accessible homes
I recently moved house. Finding an accessible house to rent was difficult. It showed how few accessible houses there are in Australia. I wanted a house with good lighting. I also wanted it to be close to public transport and shops. Other people with a disability have other needs. Needs might include a step-free entry and accessible bathroom. Landlords in Victoria do not have to provide accessibility features. There is new building guidelines designed to increase the number of accessible houses in Australia. The Build for Life website also has information for builders.
Posted by: Kristy Hyland, on 23/03/11
The need for accessible housing is only set to increase in the coming years
There are many considerations when searching for a house. Most people focus on the number of bedrooms and the location. But as I have a substantial vision impairment, there are many other factors that are important.
I always consider the property’s proximity to public transport and shops. The style and strength of lighting are also very important. The nearest grassed area for relieving my guide dog is also a consideration.
I have recently moved home. I looked at 20 different units. But none of the 20 units I inspected were accessible to people who use a wheelchair. The units would also not be easily adapted to make them accessible.
Unlike many people with a disability, I can use stairs and a standard bathroom. Narrow hallways are also fine for me. But of the 20 houses I looked at, only four were suitable for me. Only four had appropriate levels of lighting to meet my needs.
Great Australian dream
Buying your own home is still the great Australian dream for many people. But as a young person I can’t afford to purchase a home yet. Many people with disabilities are in the same situation. We often have lower than average income levels. We are at a disadvantage when it comes to buying our own home.
Renting has advantages and disadvantages. Landlords are responsible for maintaining properties. This includes having someone change a dripping washer or fixing a broken hinge. But currently in Victoria landlords do not have to make their properties accessible for people with a disability. Tenants often have to pay for making adjustments to the property. This could include painting the edge of a step or installing a ramp or hand rail. Making a rental property accessible can be very costly.
Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest 70 per cent of households own their own homes. The average person also moves house once every 10 years. Nearly 20 per cent of Australians move house each year.
According to the Australian Bureau of statistics, 14 per cent of Australians have a physical disability, while seven per cent of the population have a significant hearing or visual impairment.
These figures suggest thousands of Victorians with a disability move house every year. And the need for accessible housing is only set to increase in the coming years due to Australia’s ageing population.
New building guidelines
Last year the Federal Government launched voluntary building guidelines designed to help increase the number of accessible houses in Australia. The guidelines include level entryways and wide hallways. Such features make it easier for parents to get prams into the house as well as improving access for people who use wheelchairs and other mobility aids.
The guidelines also include a bathroom on the ground floor with reinforced walls for mounting hand rails. Accessible bathrooms help ensure people with disabilities and older people are able to more safely and easily use bathrooms in their homes or when visiting others. Step-free showers are also much safer for all users.
The guidelines are certainly a step in the right direction. But I believe it is too little, too late. Demand for accessible homes is far higher than the supply. I think the guidelines will have little impact on the availability of accessible housing.
Build For Life
The Build for Life website (opens new window) is a comprehensive online guide to building or renovating. It has many ideas for builders and homeowners about accessibility features. The site moves beyond the basics in the federal guidelines. It promotes attractive and cost-effective options.
There is an endless list of modifications which can be made to make a house more accessible. Many have no impact on the property’s appearance. They include:
- Ensuring level access at the front door (no steps)
- Bathrooms with reinforced walls to allow rails to be installed
- Step-free showers
- Contrasting colours for skirting boards and door frames
- Using open-plan spaces whenever possible
- Wide hallways and entrances.
Accessible features can significantly add to a property’s value. Accessible rental properties also tend to fetch higher rents.
Have you had difficulty finding accessible housing? What modifications have you made to your property? Let us know in the comments section below.
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