OFFICE FOR INTERNATIONAL ARCHITECTURE:   by OFIA - Office For International Architecture

HOUSING FOR ELDERLY – How to make your home accessible

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Delhi based, Sanjiv Malhan is a celebrated architect, interior designer, urbanist and columnist. Educated at the prestigious Queensland University of Technology at Brisbane (Australia), Sanjiv worked as a project architect on a range of design projects at Thomson Adsett Architects, Brisbane. In his career spanning 18 years, Sanjiv has designed projects that range from curated spaces for aged care and the specially-abled, recycling urban land and master planning in Delhi’s most sought properties and boutique hotels besides architecture and design of discotheques, standalone restaurants and art spaces. A voracious reader and passionate photographer by interest, Sanjiv is a regular contributor to columns on architecture and design in various publications of international repute.

Sanjiv Malhan is also the founder and creative force behind Office For International Architecture which delivers modern yet contemporary Architecture and Interior Design solutions to its global list of clients.  Sanjiv Malhan has represented as Ambassador for Australia Education and Safety Conclave and has also chaired as Jury at AceTech GrandStand Awards and the advisory board of various Architecture and Interior Design Summits.

Have you ever customised any house for differently abled?

Yes, I, Sanjiv Malhan, have studied Architecture from QUT Brisbane Australia with a double degree and have completed my thesis in Housing for Elderly specializing in design practice for nursing homes, and hospitals. I have worked with Thomson Adsett Architects Australia, an authority on Universal / Accessible design which is the largest design practice for nursing homes, and hospitals. I have worked and assisted on many living facilities in Australia for the elderly and differently abled.

What are the things that are to be kept in mind while customising a house for differently abled? If yes, then what are those?

The lives of differently abled people is very challenging in the day to day world. Hence apart from the care and concern we show them, we must envisage on making their world lot better by devising a friendly home design layout keeping in mind their specific requirement. Though, a complete alleviation is impossible, yet we can make things flexible and adaptable for them.

A home design for the differently abled should follow a minimalistic approach, free from clutter and have ample circulation space, there should be wide hall ways and passages to allow for wheelchairs and walking aids. A ramp for main entrance is the utmost design aspect to be included in the plan for ease of access to the house. Investing in wider doors minimum 900mm or 3 feet wide to allow for wheelchairs and stretchers and the space must be free from obstructions. 

The Washroom doors should be pinned and openable from outside in case of emergency or fall of user. Counter-tops, kitchen tables, wardrobes and must be placed such that they are easily accessible and adjustable. The washbasin, taps and guard rails in shower and at WC should be accessible at adjusting heights. Install levered door, window handles and drawers, and hand rails on staircases such that they do not require any extra aid.  If the budget allows one can invest in an automated home design such as sensor lights and automated doors and windows. With such a resilient home design, the disabled would feel at ease, without any obligation.

What are the changes to be done in kitchen, bathroom and bedroom?

The design choices should prevent stooping, reaching and falling to help keep the space safe and accessible for the elderly and differently abled in the house. When you’re designing a home for the differently abled, the following changes will help make it safer and easier to navigate through.

  A kitchen should always have a pullout pantry because it lets you see everything at a glance- homeowners of all ages will find a pullout pantry useful. It is convenient to pull out drawers as it puts less strain on your back and knees. Do not have 90-degree angles on countertops and open shelves to avoid being hit your hip or elbow on a sharp corner as you’re maneuvering in your kitchen. Round edges lessen the likelihood of bumps and bruises.   The sink should be closer to the stove since it’s harder on our arms and backs to carry big pots full of water to and from the cooktop. If any spills on the way, it becomes a slipping hazard. Opt for a shallow sink preferably only 6 to 8 inches since It’s much easier to rinse vegetables and dishes in a shallow sink bowl.   The microwave should be placed at or below counter height to minimize bending.   Designing an age-proof kitchen isn’t the time to get fancy with decorative legs, ornate refrigerator panels or angled counters they can transform your space into an obstacle course. Focus on clearance space, the standard clearance between cabinets, walls and appliances is 36 inches, which is enough room to comfortably pass in a walkway and have access to drawers and doors.    For the bathrooms ensure that floors are slip-resistant. Floor tile should have enough grout and texture to grip your feet. The bathroom should have a shower bench to sit in the shower for an age-proof bathroom design. Decreasing the amount of time you stand in the shower not only eases the strain on your body, it also reduces the chances of slipping and falling.  You can even use waterproof seat cushions so you’re not sitting on a hard surface. Also, a handheld shower head is easily adjustable for height and, when placed adjacent to your shower bench, enable you to wash up while seated. Install double-duty grab bars. These provide something for you to hold on to as you’re entering and exiting your shower. Grab bars are highly functional; they can also double as towel and robe racks.  Install a comfort-height toilet that are 17 to 19 inches high, which makes sitting and standing much easier. This will reduce the strain on your back and knees. The bedroom should have an easy accessible bed of a convenient height and supporting handrails.

What are the challenges involved and how do you overcome?

The challenge is to design a house that not only looks good but also enhances the quality of life for the elderly. More than just concentrating on colors and décor and forms to create visually appealing spaces, designing for people with disabilities requires an innovative mindset, empathy and an in depth understanding of the obstacles that sensory-impaired or physically challenged individuals face as they go about their daily lives.

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