The right to housing and living in the community is a human right, which is also enshrined in Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In it, the term "living independently" refers to self-determination and the choice of how and where people with disabilities want to live. Countries that have ratified the CRPD are obligated to ensure the implementation of this right.
However, Germany is one of those countries where this right remains insufficiently implemented. As a result of persisting comprehensive discrimination despite adequate resources, Germany is thus facing yet another reprimand by the United Nations.
Housing without barriers?
"Only accessible housing is worthy of the name social housing. Therefore no new dwellings with barriers may be built," Jürgen Dusel, the Federal Government Commissioner for Matters Relating to People with Disabilities said on the occasion of the government summit on housing policy (the so-called "Housing Summit") at the end of September in the Federal Chancellery. He adds that for people with disabilities, accessibility is a prerequisite for a dignified life because it gives freedom of action, the opportunity to live a self-determined life and participate in society. Accessible and affordable housing has a strong social dimension and is essential for an open society.
After all, accessibility doesn’t just improve the quality of life of people with disabilities. Families with children or older adults - with and without health care needs - can benefit from appropriate accessibility measures. "That's why it is also a location-specific economic advantage, especially in light of an aging population. It must become the quality standard," demands Dusel.
Accessible housing not only benefits people with disabilities, but also older people and families with children.
Dr. Michael Spörke, Head of the Social Policy Advisory Committee of the "Social Association of Germany" (Sozialverband Deutschland) likewise talks about these benefits in a REHACARE.com interview: "If all future construction is accessible – as it relates to both private housing and public structures - , the environment and places of residence will have fewer obstacles. Aside from people with disabilities, this also benefits many other groups. Accessible housing can also help older people who might not have a disability but who have difficulties performing daily living tasks. What’s more, this type of housing can also prove useful to accommodate temporary constrictions, such as bone fractures or a family using baby strollers. There are a number of examples that show that accessible construction is forward-thinking. This is especially true in light of an aging population. Due to this fact, there is an increasing percentage of people who need an accessible environment but we are ill-prepared to deal with this circumstance. Accessible housing according to DIN standards would significantly help and alleviate the situation. That's also why they are urgently needed and absolutely mandatory."
Jens Kaffenberger, Director of the Social Association VdK Germany (Sozialverband VdK Deutschland) also acknowledges this particular need and says "only five percent of all senior households are age-appropriate, yet one in four older adults suffers from motor impairments. Creating accessible and age-appropriate living spaces is one of the most urgent tasks in an aging society." Find out how this situation also affects rural areas – older adults and those in need of care – and learn about existing approaches and projects in our "Growing old in the country - challenges and opportunities" article.
Accessibility improves quality of life
At the Housing Summit, Jürgen Dusel also called for a review and expansion of tax credits for builders and building owners who provide accessible living spaces.
From Dusel's point of view, measures like the German KfW program "Altersgerecht Umbauen" (English: Age-appropriate Renovation) also require further expansion and promotion. The Federal Government already offers subsidies for this specific program. Dusel points out that in its coalition agreement, the coalition government has in fact pledged to promote and support accessible housing.
According to the Housing Summit, the current funding year makes 790 million euros available for urban development promotion programs. During this Summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel also called urban development one of the key building blocks of the future. According to Merkel, the creation of entire living communities is essential to improve the quality of life.
Hopefully, the future design of communities and environments will explicitly address the needs of people with disabilities and an aging population. This requires a continuous drastic reduction in both environmental and housing barriers.