Opinion | 10 February 2021

Time to make all new housing more accessible

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A geometric mosaic in the shape of a house. Each piece of the mosaic is a window onto Australians who will benefit from accessible housing. The text reads “Building Better Homes. Every Australian deserves a home which is safe, secure and meets their needs…”

There is a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to improve housing accessibility, for everyone. We asked our friend Dr Di Winkler from the Summer Foundation, and the Building Better Homes campaign to explain it all for us.

Nearly three quarters of Australians with a mobility impairment are unable to find housing which meets their needs according to recent research – and the problem will only get worse unless State and Federal Governments support mandatory accessibility standards.

The twin Royal Commissions into aged care and disability demonstrate public and political will to address issues across both sectors, and represent an opportunity to achieve lasting change. Institutional housing that segregates people with disability and the frail elderly is clearly not working. The recent challenges experienced by the aged care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic also highlight the importance of helping our ageing population to remain in their own home for as long as possible. At the same time, the Australian Building Code Board (ABCB) is considering the inclusion of minimum accessibility standards for housing in the 2022 National Construction Code (NCC).

Currently the building industry operates under a voluntary code of practice to include accessible features in new homes. Being voluntary, many developers opt to ignore current accessibility standards. This is not in the interests of people with disability, senior Australians, people with chronic illness or those recovering from injury. Over the next 40 years, the number of Australians with mobility issues is estimated to increase from 3 million to around 5.75 million.

Australian policymakers and the building sector need to understand the “Curb Cut Effect”, and apply it to the country’s housing. Today, the ramps on our kerbs that replaced the step up from the road to the footpath are taken for granted. But “curb cuts” were originally a hard-fought change to urban design catering specifically for those with disability. However, this innovation now benefits the entire population, from cyclists, to children with scooters, parents with prams, the elderly, or couriers and removalists. The “Curb Cut Effect” is an important reminder of the society-wide benefits that can result from policies and investments originally designed for improving accessibility. Features such as a step-free entry to homes, wider doorways, or a toilet and bedroom on the ground floor will benefit many Australians. This could be when they receive a delivery of groceries, move furniture, wheel a pram inside, recover from a work injury, or as their mobility deteriorates over time.

The current ABCB consultation provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the design of new houses for all Australians and also future-proof our housing infrastructure for our ageing population. Unless we act now, housing that does not meet the needs of a growing segment of our population will continue to be built for the next decade.

In March 2021, Building Ministers from across Australia will meet to consider whether to include mandatory minimum accessibility standards in the National Construction Code (NCC). This will be a critical decision for hundreds of thousands of people with mobility impairments who cannot find housing that meets their needs.

There are two main ways you can help us change the building code to make all new housing more accessible.

  1. Support the Building Better Homes campaign
  2. Complete and/or share this Survey of people with mobility limitations

What is the Building Better Homes Campaign?

The Building Better Homes Campaign is a coalition of more than 40 partners (including Every Australian Counts) from the disability, aged care and health sectors. The Building Better Homes Campaign is working hard to make sure Building Ministers understand the importance of including mandatory accessibility standards in the 2022 NCC.

The Campaign raises awareness and pushes for mandatory inclusion of minimum accessible features in this Code. So far we have engaged 9 prominent Australians as ambassadors for the campaign including Kurt Fearnley, Jackie French, Tim Ferguson, Simon McKeon and Graeme Innes. You can watch their videos here.

More than 7,000 people have signed the petition. You can add your name to the petition here.

Complete and/or share the survey of people with mobility limitations

The federal and state governments are currently considering a range of accessible features for inclusion in the National Construction Code.  So far the debate has been dominated by the building sector who are resistant to change and are focused on the costs. It is critical that people with disability and seniors have a voice. This survey will help make sure that seniors and people with a disability have a say in the debate.

The Summer Foundation and La Trobe University have come up with a short survey. We want to hear from as many people as possible about what accessibility features are most important to them. The survey asks seniors and people with disability which features should be prioritised in the code.

Please also consider sharing the survey with anyone in your network who has a mobility limitation. The survey will be open until the 19th February.

Read more information about the study and access the survey here

Want more information?

Email for further information about the Survey of People with Mobility Limitations Phone 03 894 7006 or email:

Visit the Building Better Homes campaign website

Go to the ABCB website for more information about the Government process for considering changes to the building code

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