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  • Writer's picturePeta

So what is accessible housing?

When disability varies from person to person so much how is a home created to be accessible?

Well, this is in one of Peta's sweet spots in her knowledge. Accessible construction and design is a passion of Peta's; so much so she has a qualification in the area.

So this episode is in two halves, first Peta will take about what makes her home accessible for her and her disability.

Then a very special guest Jenna Cohen from Honeycomb Access & Design talks us through what makes a public building accessible both in design choices and from a legal standpoint.

Get in touch with Jenna from Honeycomb Access & Design:

You can ask Peta a question via:

You can follow Peta on Instagram @petahooke


Episode transcript:

Peta [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to The I Can't Stand Podcast, the podcast answering your questions on what it's like when you have a disability. My name is Peta. And just like every week, I'm your host and I still have cerebral palsy. Of course.

Peta [00:00:21] I've had a number of questions over the last couple of weeks about what makes good, accessible design. I decided to answer these questions from two viewpoints. Firstly, I'm going to talk to you about what made my home accessible for me, what the process was in finding my home and the sort of elements that I was able to put in to make my home accessible and to allow me to live so independently. I then hand over the conversation to Jenna Cohen. Jenna is the director and founder of Honeycomb Access and Design. So, Jenna, will end the conversation on the high, explaining what accessibility is from a legal perspective. Now, don't worry, I've made sure this conversation isn't too jargon-heavy. Jenna mentions things called Standards very occasionally, and they're just basically the laws that are outlined that determine what accessibility is in a public space. Jenna has some really interesting insights on what it is like to be an accessibility consultant and where design is heading in regards to accessibility. So without any further ado, let's get into it.

Peta [00:01:55] Now, a little disclaimer before I get started today, obviously disability varies a lot. So please take my advice with a grain of salt. These are suggestions and recommendations based on my personal experience with cerebral palsy. I understand it's a very privileged experience, and not everyone is in the same situation as I am. When I was looking for my home, there were specific elements that determined whether I could purchase the home other than the price. And that was the layout. I didn't bother looking at the photos of the House nine times out of 10. I just looked at the floor plan because the floor plan determined whether I could live there. As it determined if it was possible to adapt my home to my disability. And what I mean by that is the full plan determined if it was possible to adapt the house according to putting a hoist in. The hoist has to have access to both my bedroom and my bathroom without a change of ceiling height nor going across hallways, so it cancelled out a lot of places that I looked at. And this is where it's quite tricky to explain to you something so visual on a podcast, but basically my hoist takes me from my bed to the shower to the toilet and into my wheelchair. It is imperative to my independence that I have a hoist without a hoist. I can't live really as a full fledgling human, so it's very, very important that my house was able to be adapted to enable that hoisting system. I actually took out bedroom three in my original house plan and made bedroom three my accessible bathroom. Now, it's quite a large room. It has a shower and a toilet. Of course, I wish I had a bath. Now in retrospect, I know a lot of people who particularly live with chronic pain or sit in wheelchairs like myself. Having a bath can really alleviate a lot of our pain and help with pain management. The front door we put in a ramp. We widened the front door and replaced it with a bigger front door. I made sure the lock was down low so I could lock the front door and close and open the door or basic stuff that you wouldn't really consider until you're faced with the challenge and think, Oh goodness, the handle is up way too high. I cannot reach it. I have to say I do feel incredibly guilty that I ripped out a perfectly nice kitchen. I sold it on eBay because it was still fairly new. But the kitchen was just completely inaccessible to me. The oven was on the floor. It was like a U-shaped kitchen with benches on either side, and it meant that I couldn't turn around in my own kitchen. So it was completely impractical. I replaced the kitchen with a kitchen that was designed specifically for my needs.

[00:05:30] There are many things that define an accessible kitchen. But for me in particular, things that are important are things like having good knee clearance when you get to a bench, making sure that your knees can get underneath the bench so I can reach forward and use my kitchen tap, for example. Things like having an instant hot water tap instead of a kettle because it's safer and I'm less likely to burn myself. I had to be very specific in the sort of fridge that I picked that enabled me to access it, even though I have had a few accidents and have spilt a lot of things trying to get things in and out. Other things like making sure the oven, is it my height, so I'm not raging below or raging above myself with hot items. It's really important. I also have electronic cupboards and drawers in my kitchen. That make it easy for me to open and close all my cupboards in my kitchen. And similarly, in the laundry, my washer and dryer is up high on a plinth, so it's at better height for me to be able to get the clothes in and out of the washing machine. All these elements completely define my independence and are the reason why I'm able to live my life with minimal care and minimal support. And no these amendments weren't supported by the NDIS at the time. I was just lucky enough to be in the position to be able to adapt my home myself.

Peta [00:07:18] Before I pass over to Jenna, I think it would be remiss of me to not mention the chronic need for accessible housing in this country. Only four percent of houses in this country are accessible, and yes, there are NDIS houses now being built, as Nina mentioned in a previous episode. But it is a pretty chronic need. I am extremely privileged and one of the very few that have been able to adapt their home in the manner that I chose. I was in complete control, and it is my home, and I have it the way I choose to have it. Many people with disabilities do not have that choice to another level of inequality that people with the disability face.

Peta [00:08:11] Let me introduce you to Jenna Cohen, Jenna Cohen, and I know each other, but she is the director and founder of Honeycomb Access and Design, and she's an access consultant. Jenna and I know each other from undertaking an access consultancy diploma way back in 2018. Jenna, thank you for being here. And how are you today?

Jenna [00:08:37] Oh Peta, I'm good, I'm so happy to be here. The role of an access consultant is essentially to make sure that buildings are compliant with all the requirements that are needed to make sure that they're accessible for people with disability, mainly people who use wheelchairs, people who are blind to have a vision and people who are deaf. And so the role of the consultant is to look at designs and make sure that they meet all of those requirements.

Peta [00:09:07] And for somebody who does have an architectural background, Jenna is a quite a nuanced and specialised area? Is this sort of something that a lot of architects...I mean, I'm sure they're aware of it, but do they fully consider access when they look at their designs?

Jenna [00:09:24] It didn't come up pretty much at all in my six years of studying architecture. More recently, that's changing, and that's due to campaigns and advocacy and advocates like you in Australia and partly also the legislation that's updating. And there's big changes happening next year actually to houses.

Peta [00:09:46] Just from pure like living perspective, I think I've lived through nine renovations, my parents, we love a good renovation, so I understand the building industry to an extent. But I think it was truly eye opening for me to be sitting with industry experts learning from them, but also looking at my fellow classmates and thinking, My goodness, people truly don't understand what it means to have a disability. And these are people who are building our environment that is going to be there for possibly a hundred years.

Jenna [00:10:28] Yeah, it's it's pretty incredible to think about the fact that we almost have to teach society and architects and designers how to make buildings accessible when they really should never have been designed to be inaccessible in the first place. The universities in architecture from next year will have to include some level of accessible education in the classroom.

Peta [00:10:52] That's amazing.

Jenna [00:10:53] So that's a big shift. A lot of the current teachers default to the idea of, Oh well, we'll have students hop in wheelchairs or we'll blindfold students and have them walk around the university to teach them the principles. And that's great. And that probably will teach a certain level of taking on the experience and knowing what things to consider. But there's so much more to it than that.

Peta [00:11:20] And I think that's what really gets me, because I often think design should be universal. So yes, of course it should be accessible, but for me, the most sustainable design you can have is design. That includes everyone that have no inherent barriers that allow anybody to use the space, you know, effectively and inclusively. So good design to me inherently should be accessible, but not necessarily have solutions just specifically for people with disabilities like myself.

Jenna [00:11:57] Yeah, oh completely. And and I think it was in 97' The Idea Centre in Buffalo. They came up with the principles of universal design. And that's seven principles that essentially, if you ask yourself all those questions while you're designing, you're going to cater to the vast majority of people in order to achieve the most inclusive space possible. The three things I ask is, is it going to function for all of the potential uses? Is it going to maintain dignity for every single potential user? And is it equitable for every user? So if you have a cafe that has an accessible entrance, but that entrance is at the back and you have to go past the bins and the sewers and the rubbish, is that equitable and dignifying? Well, probably not. I was speaking to someone last week about their workplace, and I'm auditing workplaces, and he happens to be in a wheelchair, so I asked him if he'd be comfortable talking to me about his experience at work, and he highlighted that there's no shelf in in the accessible toilet. It's a minor requirement, right for most people that think, Oh, it's a tiny shelf about 100 mill back 300 mill, but he needs to put his catheter on while he's cleaning and changing, and that small thing that's omitted for him in the bathroom makes his experience so difficult.

Peta [00:13:25] You know, we have a long way to go. It is interesting to me, like says no. Standard on how to get somebody out of a building if it's on fire.

Jenna [00:13:37] Yes. Accessible egress is a massive it's it's so massive because there aren't yet a standard off the market lift that is fire rated and safe for people to use in case of fire. And I mean, the best thing we have is and it is amazing that we have it. It's these accessible stair sleds that can be used for some people who have disability to be safely evacuated, but it's reliant on so many things. So, you know, the fire warden or whatever the emergency procedure is and also being able to transfer, and some people don't have the ability to transfer without a hoist. So how does that work? It's really tricky, and we have so many new models of accessible housing like specialist disability accommodation under the NDIS, which is funded by the NDIS, and we're seeing a lot of those models in apartment buildings. But yet again, how is the egress being addressed? And that's that's a really big topic that is has a lot of space to improve on. The big change that's happening in the construction industry is that from next year in September, there is now going to be a requirement for single residences, so just single homes to have a certain level of accessibility. And those will basically mean that you need to have an accessible path to the front door, a certain level of accessibility within the corridors or a certain width, maybe some of the doors and a bit of space in front of the toilet, as opposed to just having this tiny little powder room that most houses might have.

Peta [00:15:19] And particularly with the changes coming to residential next year, I really hope that it doesn't alienate the industry and they get frustrated. I hope that they see it as a challenge to make designs and houses better for everyone because in the end, I just think wider doorways, wider hallways, no thresholds on doors just make for nice design. Regardless of whether you have a disability or not.

Jenna [00:15:52] Totally, it just takes a little bit a little bit of extra thought, a little bit of consideration for at least the first project or the first one, and then it becomes natural and appreciated by everyone. I think you said that everyone will have a disability at some point in their life, whether it's an injury or a lifelong disability or as a result of ageing, because we're all living longer. And so accessibility really will benefit everybody.

Peta [00:16:26] The one area that I think the industry in general don't sort of know how to properly assist or make solutions that are best for this group are people with intellectual disabilities and sensory disabilities. Have you come across any great design solutions that you've found that yes, aren't in the standards, aren't required, but really assist and help that demographic to live their life to the full?

Jenna [00:16:59] There are certain things that can make for a really a really seamless experience for someone with intellectual disability, and sometimes it's just clear messaging. And it's not always using pictures or photographs to explain things, but sometimes just making sure that the the English is in order and is as simple as possible. There's also potential for really good use of colour to assist with wayfinding finding around places. So what's the signage system and what's it communicating and is it consistent throughout whatever the building or precinct is? So, for example, building a car park which has a colour, a letter and may be a symbol or an animal, for that level. So I saw a car park that was like the the ground was G, it was green and there was a tree and then there was B1 and B1 was blue and it said be one everywhere and there was a cloud. So depending on what your learning strategy is for how you remember things you can, you can pick on one of those one of those features.

Peta [00:18:11] And again, that's just helpful for everyone.

Jenna [00:18:16] And then there are things like that, you know, Coles have done in the past, which is the quiet hour for shopping that makes for a much more manageable sensory experience for people that have sensory disability or breakout rooms at the footy. I've heard of them. So spaces that give up space for people to to relax or either have a space with less stimuli or have a place with a lot of stimulation. So depends what people need to do in terms of their regulation. And then in places that are more consistent, so a learned environment for someone, so if you're attending the same workplace every day or if you're attending the same school every day, there are things in those environments that can be considered. So in a workplace, making sure that there are appropriate acoustics throughout the workplace so people can have chats with whoever they need to, that's not going to disturb other people and that the materials and the textures around the workplace are are appropriate. So maybe colours, maybe different materials that really can lend to a good acoustic environment. And then in a school like I, I was speaking to a friend who works in a special school, and she actually was talking about things like, you know, making sure that the taps are your most standard type of tap because they're teaching children how to wash their hands and have good hygiene practises and how they meant to do that. If the taps of these, like, you know, we had sensor taps that aren't going to be in your home or aren't going to be in public. So choosing the fixtures that are as common as possible in those environments, it's a really interesting question and something that the standards haven't yet considered. So I think we do need to find some really great examples to look to, you know, things to think about in order to cater to more people with other disabilities.

Peta [00:20:16] Absolutely. And like even things like texture, as you said, can really help people regulate their emotions and behaviours. You know, there's all sorts of different design solutions that aren't reinventing the wheel. They're just maybe using those concepts that we've used for many years in different ways.

Jenna [00:20:38] Definitely. Definitely. And, you know, playing with colour and textures and some other things that are a bit of fun can have a big impact.

Peta [00:20:49] Well, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It's just fantastic to see someone like yourself who is clearly as passionate as I am to have beautiful, equitable spaces.

Jenna [00:21:02] Well, thank you. Thank you, Peta, and thank you for having me.

Peta [00:21:06] And for those who are also design nerds like the two of us, how can people get in touch with you?

Jenna [00:21:13] Yeah, I'm always open for a chat and would love to answer any questions or talk about anything so you can find my information on Or my Instagram is @honeycomb_access. And yeah, happy to happy to talk about any project or any idea. So. So thank you.

Peta [00:21:35] Thank you for listening to this week's episode. I realise it was quite a long one, so thank you for taking the time. I really appreciate it. Until next week. Bye.


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