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What ever happened to universal design

This week’s Hutt News headline caught my attention, after having also been pointed out to me by a reader. The headline reads: “Out with the old in with the new … five-story unit for disabled”.

The article noted that the twenty-eight, one bedroom units are to be built by Housing New Zealand (HNZ), on the site of an existing earthquake-prone HNZ building, in Epuni. The new building would include a lift and communal areas for mobility scooters and would be located near the hospital and shops.

While no one would dispute the urgent need for social housing by disabled people as well as non disabled people, the segregation implicit in erecting a building “for the disabled” is disturbing. Also of concern is the implication that it is quite okay to house this already marginalized group on an earthquake prone site.

I wonder if anyone from Housing New Zealand has ever heard of the concept of ‘Universal Design’? This addresses the need for access by creating designs usable by all people, whether or not they are disabled. This is accomplished by designing wider halls and doorways, barrier-free entrances and exits, elevated electrical points, lowered switches, adjustable wardrobe rods and shelves, adjustable counters and other features, as inherent elements in the building. Universal design makes the home usable by all family members, and also recognizes that human abilities change over the life span.

Housing New Zealand only needs to contact the Barrier Free Trust, a long-standing organisation dedicated to universal design, to get all the help they need to ensure accessibility for all.