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Adaptable housing for people with disability in Australia: a scoping study

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posted on 28.04.2021, 05:04 by Maryam Gusheh, Catherine Murphy, Lucy ValentaLucy Valenta, Nigel Bertram, Duncan Maxwell

There are 4.4 million people with disability in Australia, yet the availability of appropriate accessible housing remains a challenge for many Australians with disability. Many existing homes are inaccessible and, as there is currently no mandatory accessibility standard for housing contained in the National Construction Code (NCC), inaccessible homes continue to be built. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has expressed concern about this and recommended that federal law be amended to include mandatory rules on access for all new and extensively modified housing.


Problems with existing housing include poor access; unsuitable internal layouts; inadequately designed bathrooms, kitchens and laundries; and a lack of other qualities such as good light and connections to outdoor views and spaces. As well, dwellings may be poorly located in relation to transport, services and amenities, further limiting life choices, particularly around employment. It is up to individual households to make changes to their dwellings – owned or rented – whether through limited government funding pathways if they qualify, or by privately funding them.


The provision and availability of accessible housing for people with disability can be enhanced in two ways:

  • by ensuring that all housing is constructed to meet minimum accessibility requirements from the outset, or

  • through some form of modification or adaptation, which may involve a substantial renovation.

There is a need to pursue both options to ensure people with disability have access to suitable housing in Australia. However, the focus of this report is on the second option – the modification or adaptation of existing housing stock in Australian cities and towns, to ensure that people with disability have choice about where to live. We also focus on non-specialist housing, where 96% of the 4.4 million Australians (17.7% of the population) with disability live, rather than on Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) for people with high care needs. The primary aim of the report is to consider the applicability and replicability of established design-informed approaches for flexibility and adaptation that have been successfully employed in other contexts (such as the home office or housing for multi-generational families) to retrofitting housing for people with disability, which would also benefit the whole community. Such an approach goes beyond function and accessibility to consider the qualities that create a dignity-enabling home environment. The report considers opportunities for architectural design practice and research to complement and improve current approaches to the modification and adaptation of existing housing stock for people with disability.

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Australian Human Rights Commission

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