Opinion Piece: Accessible Design

Richard Grota

Director, Edward Architecture

Housing should be designed for all forms of disability. Some people who are regarded as disabled, are in fact largely disabled by their environment and can become trapped in their own homes or spaces living a life restricted by poor design. It is critical that these people get the access to resources to give them a way of using their space that provides the very best quality of life.

In the UK there are more than 13 million people living with a disability which comes in many guises such as physical, sensory and mental illnesses. It is becoming increasingly important to create architectural design that provides freedom of movement for all. Varied needs require a varied design solution which can be adapted to suit different physical restrictions. Architecture is all about human comfort and in the words of The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, ‘by improving the quality of buildings and spaces this will have a lasting influence on the quality of peoples lives’.

Anyone who creates a custom-made property has the opportunity to really think about what they need from their home, both now and in the future and to take all crucial and desired elements into account. For those who have a disability, the opportunity to adapt their house or create a new tailor-made dwelling could dramatically improve their daily life and bring families closer together. It can be an emotional process working with people and listening to how the things most people take for granted, such as interaction with their children, have become an impossible challenge due to the physical environment they are living in.

Designs need to support developers and the people that they serve, both for their physical and mental health, and there are so many ways to achieve this.  Through thoughtful design and by working closely with people we can get to the heart of the changes that would be life altering. Sometimes it is the smallest change that can make the biggest difference, for example, viewing the garden from someone's bed, or the incorporation of a larger window to a small room and really listening to people when they explain how they want their space to function to accommodate the daily routines of themselves and their family members. Central living space is often key to enabling free movement around core areas and everyone will use their homes in different ways, for some it’s all about being able to do meal and bath times with their children with ease. For some the incorporation of sensory rooms is life-changing and these can take all forms depending on what elements are important for the individual.

Accessible design goes far beyond just making a home wheelchair friendly, and there is a real stir in the market at the moment towards designing dwellings that can be stylish and modern. Flexible homes can be designed without knowing they are for a particular need and without compromise on style. A well-designed space with a specific practical purpose will enhance rather than inhibit design. The Architect’s role is to design, specify and oversee building projects from inception through to completion, ensuring that schemes meet the needs of the individual and the recommendations and rehabilitation programmes made by their professional advisors. Designs must always have the full approval of the client, their Occupational Therapists, Case Managers, Solicitors and all other relevant parties prior to works commencing, to ensure the completed works are exactly as requested.

With the current climate, many people are spending more time in the home than ever both as a result of restrictions imposed by the Government and as a knock-on effect of the rise in working from home. Wellness as a concept has never been so important. A growing body of evidence is demonstrating how the design of buildings, streets, parks and neighbourhoods can support good physical and mental health, help reduce health inequalities and improve people's wellbeing by building healthy experiences into people's everyday lives.

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