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Accessible housing environments are important to maximise independence

When we think of accessible housing for individuals with disabilities, we imagine ramps, wider doorways, lower set light switches, and large bathrooms. Indeed, these are important features of residences that allow individuals with complex disabilities to live independently. According to Professor Heidi Zeeman and her colleagues at Recover Injury Research Centre, accessibility features are only part of the housing solution for individuals with complex disabilities.


While accessible housing environments are important to maximise the independence of individuals with complex disabilities, Professor Zeeman suggests that ‘inclusive housing’ environments are necessary to ensure the full participation of individuals with complex disabilities. Inclusive housing is a term that is used to describe housing features that will maximise an individual’s potential for full participation in his or her family, social and community life.


As a result of limited financial resources, the residences of many individuals with complex disabilities are often located in poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of town. Particularly for individuals with ambulation challenges, such locations are not ideally suited to assist the individual in fully participating in his or her family, social or community life.


Professor Zeeman suggests that residences for individuals with complex disabilities should be more centrally located. Many individuals with complex disabilities require ongoing medical or attendant care. A wider range of such services is available in urban centres compared to outlying suburbs. Centrally located residences also promote more social interaction with family and friends because they are more easily accessed by public transport. Another important feature of housing designed to promote social interaction is the addition of a guest bedroom. The option of being able to stay overnight can lead to longer periods of contact with friends and family.


According to Professor Zeeman, incorporating ‘natural’ elements in the living environment of the individual with a complex disability is also important. The addition of plants, flowers and views of nature can contribute in important ways to the individual’s emotional well-being and quality of life.


Finally, the issue of choice is critical to promoting higher quality of life in individuals with complex disabilities. In the past, individuals with complex disabilities have not been invited to play a role in the design or location of their residences. The prevailing view was that individuals with disabilities should accept what is offered to them as opposed to requesting what they need or want. This is now changing with development of tools and resources to assist individuals with complex disabilities to become ‘partners’ with funding agencies, architects and contractors in making decisions about the location and features of the residences that they will call home.



Wright, C.J, Zeeman, H., Whitty, J.A. (2016). Design principles in housing for people with complex physical and cognitive disability: Towards an integrated framework for practice. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, DOI 10.1007/s10901-016-9517-2. 

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