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Inclusive Design - Building a Better Future For Everyone

July 24, 2017

At its heart, Inclusive Design is about involving the end user and their needs in the design process as early as possible and continuing consultation throughout. This results in all parties having an increased awareness of the issues facing those with disabilities, which leads to more effective and Inclusive Design of products and buildings. Experiencing a day-in-the-life of a disabled person isn’t a reality for able-bodied designers and builders, but an ongoing cycle of discussion, testing, feedback and adjustment is.


A term coined in the UK at the turn of the millennium, the UK government defined Inclusive Design as “products, services and environments that include the needs of the widest number of consumers”. In the USA and Japan it’s called Universal Design, and was based on the USA’s Civil Rights Movement which promotes “full and equal enjoyment… of goods and services”. Across the pond they use Design For All, which embodies suitable products, services, environments and interfaces that work for people of all ages and abilities.  



Does Inclusive Design Exist In New Zealand?

Inclusive design has come a long way here in Aotearoa. Leading the movement is Lifemark™, an organisation who work alongside designers and builders to realise houses that are ‘designed to be usable and safe for people of all ages and stages. They are easy to live in – for a lifetime.’ Lifemark™ homes use the Inclusive Design mentality and work with accredited partners to build houses and retirement villages that carry their three-, four- or five-star Lifemark™ Rating. They put space in the right place and are setting the example for others to follow.


Quantifying The Immediate Need For Inclusive Design

The work by Lifemark™ and others is excellent and we’re heading in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go before Inclusive Design becomes the norm. New Zealand has a severe lack of homes suitable for disabled people. It is a very real issue that will only worsen with our large ageing population – 20% by 2030, just 13 years away. It’s an issue facing the homeowners of tomorrow, but luckily for them it can be addressed today with Inclusive Design. First, some context...


It doesn’t take long to see where we’re heading and how essential Inclusive Design is to our future. The 2013 New Zealand Disability Survey identified 1.1m kiwis as having some kind of disability, with physical limitations the most common impairment in adults. By the year 2030 our population will grow to 5.5m, of which 20% will be aged 65+, and over half of them will have a disability that may require modification to their home or even a specially designed home. That’s 800,000 people who will depend on Inclusive Design – more than the combined populous of Wellington, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Hamilton! What’s more striking is that of the 27,132 new homes consented in 2015, only 644 were certified (by Lifemark™) as meeting the requirements of an ageing population. Too much data to compute? Here’s an infographic for a visual.


Why The Issue Of Access Affects All Of Us

Able-bodied individuals under 65 probably don’t think Inclusive Design is something they need to give a second thought to. The reality is that because homebuyers and builders are usually fit and healthy, they pay no attention to how liveable a space will be for someone with mobility challenges. But what happens when the resident gets older and/or becomes less mobile? Or perhaps they’ll want to sell or lease the house – what about the potential buyers or tenants? And so continues the cycle of unsuitable housing. As with most things, prevention is better than cure and building accessible homes from the ground up is easier than retrofitting, so now is the time for all of us to learn about and promote the values of Inclusive Design.


Simple Ideas and Making Things Scalable  

Physical impairment that’s considered a disability is on a sliding scale from conditions that affect motor skills like arthritis or Parkinson’s Disease, through to paralysis and other issues that render the individual wheelchair- or bed-bound. In the same way, Inclusive Design components can vary from simple things like large and two-way light switches or single-lever, one-handed temperature and flow control taps that are easier to handle; as well as high-level items like lifts, elevators and stair lifts. The latter don’t necessarily need to be incorporated in a building from the get-go, but if they are allowed for in the design, they are much easier to add in the future. Simple things like putting the essential amenities (kitchen, toilet, bedroom) on the same level can also go a long way to achieving Inclusive Design.


Benefits of Inclusive Design For Everyone

The benefits of Inclusive Design are obvious for those with disabilities, but the benefits for everyone else are notable too:


  • Better resale opportunities for homeowners.
  • Landlords’ properties will be more attractive to disabled renters, who may in turn sign a longer lease.
  • Businesses housed in accessible offices can employ disabled people and more easily fulfil their equal opportunities commitments.
  • The same companies will land good favour with visiting business connections who have mobility limitations.
  • Public service buildings benefit from higher visitor rates and a better public image when they are accessible to everyone.
  • We’ll all be over 65 and less mobile one day, and considering 90% of us want to remain in our own home when this day comes, we better be prepared for it.


How To Be Included In Inclusive Design

If you’re building your own home or looking for commercial or rental property, consider all of the above from the outset, and we’ll be looking at a brighter and more inclusive future. Some district councils are already making things easier for Lifemark™-certified builds. Speak to Vestner to learn more about Inclusive Design and how you can consider it by incorporating intelligent access solutions in your plans.

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Filed under Building codes and standards \ Community & Inspiration

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