Australia People in Canberra with a disability are 'trapped' in their housing, but new rules could change that

01:35  23 april  2021
01:35  23 april  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Canberrans with physical disabilities often need to build their own homes or end up in public housing, according to advocates, but proposed new national requirements may force builders to construct all new homes to accessible standards.

Currently, people with disabilities can find carrying out even the most simple tasks impossible in the average Canberra house, according to accessibility advocate Craig Wallace. "We have people who [are] trapped in housing where their wheelchairs can't get out the door, where they can't reach the cooktop to heat up a cup of soup," Mr Wallace said.

"We have older people who risk a devastating injury or fall every time that they use the shower."

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As a housing campaigner and advocacy manager at the ACT Council of Social Services, for years Mr Wallace has been calling on the ACT Government to make Canberra more accessible and inclusive.

With an ageing population, he warns improvements to building accessibility requirements are urgently needed.

"The rental market is already really tight for people on low incomes, if you add into that a lack of accessible-built form, it is almost impossible for anyone to find a privately rented or available house that can suit them," he said.

"If they have a disability most people wind up either needing to build — if they have the finances in an expensive city like Canberra — or in public housing.

"What we need is a supply of accessible private rentals that are on the market and available and show everybody that it's actually possible to live in the type of housing that has advantages as you age."

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Voluntary guidelines 'failed' to provide adequate housing

Soon, some of the changes Mr Wallace and other peak bodies have been calling for could be put in place.

ACT Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction Rebecca Vassarotti will next week attend a meeting of Australia's Building Ministers to discuss the introduction of mandatory accessibility standards in the National Construction Code.

The standards would mean all homes, townhouses and apartments built in the future would need to meet "universal design" standards— that is, be accessible for most people, regardless of their age, disability, background or other factors.

It would include features such as: doors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs, no entry steps, a bathroom on the ground floor and structural reinforcements to allow for the installation of things like grip rails if needed in the future.

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Ms Vassarotti said universal design had been standard overseas for years, including in the United Kingdom, where accessibility requirements to its residential building regulations were introduced in 1999.

"It is about time Australia's National Construction Code followed suit," she said.

Ms Vassarotti said the current voluntary guidelines, introduced over a decade ago, had failed to create accessible housing, with only five per cent of new homes complying in the past 10 years.

"Indeed, 73.6 per cent of respondents in a 2020 report by the University of Melbourne said they were living in housing that does not, or only partially, meets their needs," she said.

Ms Vassarotti said the changes would be inexpensive and estimated it would only add about one per cent to the cost of a home in Canberra.

"But [it will] save thousands of dollars in expensive retrofitting to homes in the future," she said.

"Above all, they will mean that people are not forced out of their homes because they cannot be adapted to their needs."

However, she acknowledged the building industry would need support through a reasonable timeframe to implement the changes.

"We do need industry to now fully commit to building homes that meet the needs of this community," she said.

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usr: 1
This is interesting!