Many homes and apartments are not accessible to people with disabilities. Single-family properties or multi-family homes with many separate housing units often have barriers in the form of front doorsteps or narrow staircases to get to the upper floors. For years, builders of larger accommodations must comply with corresponding accessible design and construction requirements. Getting into an accessibility mindset right from the start benefits everyone! After all, even young people who today can climb staircases with ease, will someday be older and likely face mobility-related impairments.
The demographic change in our society makes accessible living space urgently necessary. It is therefore worth planning a new building project to be accessible right from the start.
The best way to make our lives accessible is to design and build homes and apartment buildings without barriers to mobility right from the start. It means designing on-grade front entrances or doorways wide enough to ensure ample space for a wheelchair and walkers to maneuver. Parents are also appreciating this type of design because it allows them to easily navigate a baby stroller.
Building design can refer to DIN 18040-2 from 2011 (Construction of accessible buildings - Design principles) for reference. The standard specifies ways of accessible planning and remodeling existing buildings. It should be noted that not every accessible apartment is inevitably wheelchair accessible. A distinction is made between two standards in this case as wheelchairs require a much larger clearance for maneuvering and turning (e.g., to navigate doorways or maneuver bathrooms) than users of walkers or walking canes need. Wheelchairs also require a minimum hallway width of 48" (1.20 m). Bathrooms must accommodate a bath lift to mechanically lower and lift individuals from a bathtub.
Accessible and smart apartment design
Remodeling is an option for anyone unable to move into a new building or those who prefer to stay in their own presently non-accessible home. Often there are ways to make a structure wheelchair-accessible and free of barriers. It helps to complete a home accessibility checklist to assess and get organized: What are accessible features in my living space? What are problem areas? What will it take to make the required changes?
Simple remodeling solutions include bathroom grab bar supports or motorized shutter systems and awnings, which are all easy to install. Assistive technologies like this indoor walker by TOPRO use less space and are great tools when you live in a smaller apartment. The installment of an accessible kitchen or a powered stair liftrequires the help of professionals.
How and whether to install a stair lift, must decide professionals.
Smart electronics can likewise help seniors age in place. Options include using the sound of your voice to open and close roller shutters and doors thanks to voice recognition software. VoiceMate from DMAC Technologies Ltd. is a system that can help in this setting. Managing Director Dave Carthy explains the system: "VoiceMate is a user-independent voice control system. Users prompt the system to perform actions, asking it to "open the front door", for example. VoiceMate uses verbal commands to replace direct access via touch and/or switch use. The system works without an internet connection, broadband, or cloud computing. It is primarily designed as an interface to existing assistive technology in the assistive technology market."
As an option, VoiceMate can also be integrated into a user’s existing smart home system and managed either via app or remote control. If a user’s motor-skills are impaired to where these modes are no longer a possibility, he/she can switch to voice control. The system recognizes voice commands in a variety of languages. VoiceMate is focused on the protection of data privacy: "VoiceMate does not collect any personal information and will not target users with suggestions or advertising. VoiceMate is only allowed to speak when spoken to," Carthy confirms.
An individual’s needs, wants and personal circumstances will determine the type of solution he/she chooses to meet the respective requirements. However, it makes sense for all of us to design our homes for accessibility to be ready for any occasion. It is essential to get the right support in this endeavor – also as it pertains to funding these projects. That’s when (almost) nothing stands in the way of accessible housing.