Accessible Housing

Tue 23 January 2018

Guest blog by Jason Barker, Principal at Design for Dignity.

We are constantly reminded that Australia has an ageing population and of the struggle the nation will have need to fund human services and pensions into the future.

One aspect which is less discussed is the accessibility of residential housing. Being able to “age in place” depends in part on whether your dwelling can be affordably adapted to meet your changing needs.

“Around one-third of Australian households contained a person with disability (35.9% or 3.2 million households).” Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (2015).

Just like our population, our accommodation is also ageing and not always design to meet the changing needs of the people who live in them – and that might be what you would expect of older style housing.

Something that you might not expect is that new accommodation is not being designed or built with accessibility in mind and that there are no compulsory rules in the National Construction Code (NCC) to change that situation for new buildings.

The ABS tells us that around 14 percent of people with disability living alone in a household (that is not in care-accommodation) had home modifications made. Around 11 percent of people with disability living with others in households had home modifications. This is nearly half a million modifications ranging from door widening, structural changes, toilet, bath or laundry modifications, grab rails, structural changes and other changes to enable the person to live with greater dignity and independence. Most of these changes are made because the design was poor in the first place and are more expensive because they need to be retrofitted.This also sometimes make them look out-of-place and not that attractive.

Could better planning and design improve this situation for the future?

Back in 2009 the National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design brought together property, government and advocacy stakeholders to thrash out ideas to enable better, more accessible, housing design. In 2010, the Livable Housing Australia (LHA) guidelines were developed to provide guidance and benchmarks for those that want to make housing accessible, now and into the future.  LHA and the Guidelines are supported by the major players in the property industry (including AND members Lendlease and Stockland):

  • Frasers Property
  • Grocon
  • Lendlease
  • Mirvac
  • Stockland
  • Australian Institute of Architects
  • Master Builders Australia
  • Property Council of Australia.

What did this movement seek to achieve back in 2010? The LHA website says that:

“Members agreed to set an aspirational target for all new housing to be designed and built to meet minimum livable housing design standards by 2020."

The work of LHA, it’s guidance and influence over local planning has been positive, but slow. Take-up is voluntary and the way it is applied across Local Council areas across the country is mixed.

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design (ANUHD) have long been advocating for National Construction Code (NCC) to include some basic accessibility requirements for all new dwellings.  They argue that the current voluntary approach is likely to deliver less than 5% of new residential buildings being accredited under the LHA scheme.

Persistent lobbying by ANUHD has resulted in the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) announcing that its 2017/18 program of work would include a 'Research report on the provision of minimum requirements for accessible housing in the NCC'. This was given impetus when in October 2017, COAG directed the Building Ministers’ Forum to undertake a national Regulatory Impact Assessment (RIA) regarding accessible housing for private residences with Liveable Housing Silver and Gold standards as a minimum for all new housing construction. ANUHD believes the minimum standard should be Gold.

So what is a regulatory impact assessment?

The Regulatory Impact Assessment is a process undertaken by the ABCB to understand the problems, objectives, impact analysis and prepare recommendations (a Regulatory Impact Statement) through consultation with stakeholders. The ABCB has indicated this could take 12 months and that they are keen to understand the economic impact of any changes. To that end they have provided a link to the ANUHDs short survey on accessible housing which says the aim is to understand:

  • The difficulties (if any) in finding livable housing.
  • The cost and benefit to Australian Society in providing livable features in all new housing; and
  • The features that should be in a livable standard for all new housing.

The survey is open till 28 February.

It is unlikely in realty that the RIA process and implementation of changes would make it into the 2019 National Construction Code, meaning it would not be considered until 2022.

What are the LHA requirements being considered?

Silver Level

Provide a safe, continuous step-free pathway from the front boundary of the property to an entry door to the dwelling.

This provision does not apply where the average slope of the ground where the path would feature is steeper than 1:14.

The path of travel should have a minimum clear width of 1000mm and have:

  • No steps
  • An even, firm, slip resistant surface.
  • A crossfall of not more than 1:40.
  • A maximum pathway slope of 1:14.

Where ramps are required they should have landings provided at no greater than 9m for a 1:14 ramp and no greater than 15m for ramps steeper than 1:20. Landings should be no less than 1200mm in length.

The path of travel may be provided via an associated car parking space for the dwelling. Where a car parking space is relied upon as the safe and continuous pathway to the dwelling entrance, the space should incorporate:

  • Minimum dimensions of at least 3200mm (width) x 5400mm (length).
  • An even, firm and slip resistant surface; and
  • A level surface (1:40 maximum gradient, 1:33 maximum gradient for bitumen).

A step ramp may be incorporated at an entrance doorway where there is a change in height of 190mm or less. The step ramp should provide:

  • A maximum gradient of 1:10.
  • A minimum clear width of 1000mm (please note: width should reflect the pathway width).
  • A maximum length of 1900mm.

Where a ramp is part of the pathway, level landings no less than 1200mm in length, exclusive of the swing of the door or gate than opens onto them, must be provided at the head and foot of the ramp.

Note: The width of the landing will be determined by the adjoining pathway. If the landing directly adjoins the doorway please refer to Element 2 for dimensional requirements.

Gold Level

As for silver level except:

  • Replace the minimum clear pathway width of 1000mm with 1100mm, and

In the section that refers to associated car parking, the following additional features should be added:

  • A vertical clearance over the parking space of at least 2500mm; and
  • A covered parking space to ensure protection from the weather.

Been here before?

In 2009 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs released its report on the ‘Inquiry into Draft Disability (Access to Premises – Buildings) Standards’.  This report was called the Access All Areas report.

The Access All Areas report made a range of recommendations in relation to emergency evacuation of people with disability, some of which have been brought into the NCC over the last few years.  The most significant suggestion was that two options be evaluated to provide safe, dignified and independent evacuation: Option 1) five ‘Deemed to Satisfy’ proposals in the NCC including things like Proposal 1 – visual alarms, visual and tactile alarms in Sole occupancy units, co-location of fire-isolated exits with lifts, accessible paths of travel to an exit, accessibility of fire-isolated exits, or Option 2) A non-mandatory handbook.

The ABCB determined this matter six years later, in March 2015, and determined that:

“The cost of implementing Option 1 is however considered large and the intangible benefits are unlikely to outweigh the costs.”

  Organisations such as Association of Consultants in Access Australia, Vision Australia, Australian Institute of Architects (AIA), Fire Protection Association (FPA) and Victorian Metropolitan Fire Brigade all supported Option 1. There is also no obvious sign of the non-mandatory handbook on the ABCB website.

Let’s hope that everyone contributes to the debate and the ANUHD survey and we develop a full understanding of the costs and benefits of creating a stock of accessible housing for the future.

Appendix: ABS Survey of Disability, Aging and Carers. Table 13.1 All persons with disability, use of aids or equipment, by living arrangements –2015, estimate.

Whether home modifications made because of health conditions


Lives alone in a household

Lives with others in a household


Structural changes








Toilet, bath or laundry modifications




Doors widened




Handgrab rails




Other home modifications




Total with modifications




All people with disability





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