With issues of inclusivity hitting the headlines daily, the voice of those with disabilities is becoming stronger. However, in the area of private and public rented housing there is still need for accessibility to be further embraced. Here Stuart Reynolds, Head of Product and Marketing at AKW, discusses how public and private landlords and developers can make their housing stock more accessible.
The proportion of households in the private rented sector has not changed for five years and in the social rented sector it has not changed for over a decade. Yet, according to an Equality and Human Rights Commission report demand for accessible housing is increasing, with insufficient supply across all tenure types.
A major piece of research by the Smith Institute also forecasts that by 2034 there will be 170,000 more residents with mobility problems living in housing association properties. With this in mind, in the next 10-20 years, many more people living in private rented properties, or homeowners with insufficient equity, will need to try and find more suitable, adapted accommodation.
Making housing stock accessible – the bathroom
To build flexibility into housing stock is always a challenge. However the area that causes the most challenges for offering accessibility in housing stock is the bathroom. There are a variety of ways that this can be transformed, the most common being with the inclusion of a level-access wet room or bath and assisted living additions such as grab rails.
Level access showering brings flexibility to housing stock
Able to be installed on a screeded base, or on a timber floor, wet rooms have now moved from having a vaguely ‘institutional’ look and feel to being seen as sophisticated. Their use in up-market hotels has transformed them in the minds of end users. Also, thanks to the range of shower room options are now available, it is possible to accommodate a wide range of budgets, whilst still delivering stunning finished results.
How to overcome the bath versus shower debate?
However, despite level access shower rooms promoting long-term safety and independence for those with mobility issues, this type of bathroom can cause difficulties when general-needs accommodation is re-let and the next occupants require a more traditional bathroom layout.
Even in sheltered housing, standard wet room solutions do not always work.
‘Personalisation’ is a common buzz-word but it is expensive to deliver in practice. So, what can housing providers do to provide both value-for-money and flexible solutions to keep all tenants happy?
Bathroom for Life solution
To help build greater flexibility into housing stock, AKW has been working with many social housing providers to overcome this issue with the Bathroom for Life solution. This offers a conventional bathroom layout that includes a bath; however the bath can be very quickly and easily adapted to become a level access wet room showering area (and back again if required).
There is only a small difference in the price between a Bathroom for Life installation and a traditional bathroom refurbishment or new build, but the versatility it offers housing managers and developers increases the flexibility of their housing stock.
Lighting – improving accessibility for all
As well as structural considerations such as level access showering or flexible bath-to-shower room options, an aesthetic addition that is often overlooked – the lighting – can dramatically improve safety and reduce fall-risks in the bathroom.
Good lighting helps everyone, but for those with low vision or mobility issues, the avoidance of shadows, dark areas and glare are key to safe movement around a bathroom. Working with occupational therapists, AKW has developed a simple to use accessible bathroom lighting guide on what to install and where, for maximum user benefit.
In summary, the key points of the guide are:
- Include ambient lighting to maintain general light levels. This can be achieved with the use of LED ceiling lights, as these provide shadow free illumination and they are ideal for those with visual impairment challenges, or for those with dementia.
- Include narrow beam LED downlights over specific ‘task-based areas’ such as the shower, bath, sink or toilet. Most LED downlights on the market have a beam angle of 60°, however for those with low vision or mobility issues, a specialist task light with a 30° beam angle is best. This is because it delivers a more ‘light where it is needed’ for the user.
Although there is increasing pressure on housing stock to become even more accessible, manufacturers are working hard to help social landlords provide ‘real-world’ solutions. Thanks to introductions by accessible equipment companies such as AKW, many housing providers are saving time and building long-term flexibility into their housing stock.