Inclusive design solutions - what are they?
Unfortunately, the existing housing stock in the UK doesn’t offer many options for inclusive design solutions for those in a wheelchair due to trauma or accident. Only 10% of homes have at least 1 of the 4 adaptations needed to consider a house accessible according to the English Housing Survey 2018-19. These include:
- level access to the main entrance
- a flush threshold
- sufficiently wide doorways and circulation space, and
- a toilet at entrance level.
However, there are several adaptations that can be made to ensure that our clients can return and be comfortable in their own home – which can accelerate an individual’s rehabilitation if bespoke changes are made to meet their needs.
In these cases, the architect must work in close collaboration with the client’s deputy and occupational therapist to work out which is the best way forward in terms of giving a person as much independence as they can, making their life and their carer’s life easier and futureproofing a home for the client’s needs further down the line.
In additional to logistical changes such as widening doors and having larger open-plan layouts, having an area that prioritises sleep and rest is also key. The difficulties posed by everyday life after someone has a stroke, for example, need resolving to ensure that they have a home that meets their needs and allows them to rest sufficiently.
Inclusive design basics
- Widening Doorways – This allows wheelchairs and other mobility assistance to move and turn easily throughout the home, avoiding bottlenecks.
- Level or ramped access to the garden – Steps are generally inadvisable for people requiring a deputy, and measures like ramps, level accesses between rooms and grab handles can improve their mobility and independence
- Wet rooms – Bathrooms present difficulties for people with reduced mobility, so a ground-floor level wet room and shower with suitable handles can make a huge difference to a client’s wellbeing and hygiene.
- Downstairs toilets – These can make both the client and carer’s life a lot easier, provided there is enough space and adequate grips, bars and appropriately accessible features like push-flushes and mixer taps.
- Adapted kitchens – This is one of the best investments to improve the lives of our clients in wheelchairs. Counters and tables that have space for a wheelchair to pull into and appliances that are at the right height for someone seated can make all the difference, provided the layout is redesigned to accommodate a wheelchair properly and safely.
- Stair and floorlifts – If your home is split across varying levels, these are a sensible investment to make the client’s and carer’s lives easier by providing convenient transfers between floors.
- Hydrotherapy pools – These are an increasingly popular way to help a client rest and with gentle exercise to support rehabilitation. They’re also important as a bonding tool for clients to reconnect with their family after an accident, and are ideal for sensory stimulation and relaxation.
In 2018, a client engaged us to design an extension to his detached house in Shirley so that his elderly mother could move in and have her own private suite of accommodation downstairs, preserving her independence and keeping her in contact with her family.
In late 2019, the family of a gentleman who had suffered an industrial accident at his manufacturing job made contact with us via this past client, and came to us with a similar project, but even more adapted to the needs of someone with reduced functionality in a wheelchair.
After an initial property appraisal, several meetings with the family, the gentleman’s deputy and his occupational therapist, we came up with a design that allowed the client a great amount of privacy and independence, including:
- A gently sloping ramp from the front of the house down to the road
- Roll-under kitchen units and an adjusted-height table for the client to be able to eat with their family
- A convenient downstairs en-suite wet room adjacent to his bedroom featuring a small hydrotherapy pool
- To help with rehabilitation, the deputy requested a ‘jungle gym’ in the client’s living area.
As part of the changes made to the rest of the house, level floors were installed throughout, and doorways were widened as part of the architectural plans In addition, a chair lift was installed to allow the client to continue to enjoy their garden. An intelligent lighting system was also integrated for the client’s comfort.
Due to time constraints, the work had to be turned round in a very tight period, but our planning application was processed by Solihull Borough Council promptly, and we were able to start the build quickly. Our client was soon back with their family and enjoying the convenience of their refurbished home.
In our second example, we didn’t have the luxury of a detached house to extend out – this project was located in a Victorian terrace in Kings Heath, and the client’s family preferred them to stay in the house so they could assist with their care.
Nevertheless, we appraised the property with the client’s deputy, and decided on four main features:
- A generous bathroom or wet room for the client
- Self-contained accommodation for the full-time carer
- A guest bedroom for the family
- Living area that was as open-plan as possible.
In consultation with a structural engineer, we decided that the best course of action was a side return extension that would open up the kitchen into a kitchen-diner and provide easy access into the garden. We were also able to knock through some storage units in the hall to widen the hallway from the front door to the now open-plan kitchen. This also meant that the doorway could be widened for easier access.
In addition, we reoriented the client’s sleeping accommodation (the old living room) away from the hall towards the kitchen diner, providing an almost completely open living and sleeping area that nevertheless preserved some privacy with the help of pocket doors.
A wet room was conveniently sited between the living and sleeping areas making use of the plumbing for the previous galley kitchen.
Upstairs, the three bedrooms on the first floor were converted into accommodation for the clients carer, with a kitchen, large bedroom and living-room office arrangement. The second floor was repurposed as a small guest en-suite for when the client’s family visited.
A relatively simple redesign involving widening corridors, doorways and reorienting the accommodation has given our client they space they need to retain some independence, and all the facilities their family and carer need to help them. It was a real pleasure to complete this project.
On this occasion we were working with the deputy of a young boy with severe disabilities living in Walsall.
We redesigned the and extended the downstairs living accommodation to provide a large lounge and family room that opened out onto the level terrace into the garden. This new extension also provided space for the boy’s bedroom downstairs with a bed with hoists.
The doorways were widened throughout and the garage was converted into a wheelchair store. The garage conversion also provided space for a utility room and kitchenette for the young man’s carer.
To further help with the boy’s rehabilitation, a sensory room was integrated into his living area, with easy access to the rest of the house, and we were able to gain planning permission to build a hydrotherapy pool at the rear of the house, close to the boy’s bedroom.
These adaptations can make a real difference to how a client perceives their home, and to how a carer can give them the treatment they need. Investing in these measures can completely change their outlook and have a real positive effect on their mood and the effectiveness of their care.
To ensure that a home can be adapted to meet a client’s needs, Lapworth Architects can carry out property appraisals for Court of Protection deputies, and can also advise on practical inclusive designs solutions so that their clients can remain in their home from their broad experience in the sector.
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