Universal Approach is the Key to Meeting Growing Housing Demands

Earlier this month, Canadians marked National AccessAbility Week (NAAW). This week is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of individuals with disabilities and highlights the value of real inclusion in our communities.

A recent Angus Reid poll revealed that disability touches 50% of the Canadian population already. Even if you don’t have a disability yourself, you likely know someone who does. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the country, and the only one that anyone can join at any moment. Whether from a fall down the stairs, an illness or accident – or maybe after living a long and happy life, you might need a cane or a hearing aid. Sooner or later everyone will need some access considerations in their homes. It’s no wonder that the demand for housing that works for everyone is on the rise.

Real estate professionals are in a unique position to both identify the need at a granular level while simultaneously helping to deliver housing that works for everyone. Older adults and seniors are a major part of the market. Understanding their real needs could deliver a significant return on investment. 

Understanding the Scope

In 2017, nearly 1.4 million Canadians aged 70 and older residing in private dwellings reported having a disability. As our population ages, we can assume this number has dramatically increased over the past six years – and continues to do so. While building codes and local standards may meet some minimum requirements, they are incapable of meeting the real needs of the majority of users.

However, when homes are built or renovated with Universal Design principles in mind, it ensures they are usable by people of all ages and abilities. While these principles encourage using intuitive and user-friendly features to promote independence in residential spaces, Universal Design also recognizes the importance of aesthetics. This area of design eliminates the notion that accessibility features are separate or obtrusive; instead, they are seamlessly integrated into the overall design to create visually appealing spaces. 

Expanding Accessibility

At present, a real estate professional’s ability to highlight accessibility accommodations in a listing in BC is limited, as wheelchair access and an accessible bathroom are the only selection fields related to accessibility on the BC Multiple Listing Service® Systems. This limited focus on wheelchair users and mobility fails to represent the diverse needs of the housing market. In fact, people using wheeled mobility devices represent something less than 30% of the community of people with disabilities. The opportunity is there to fill this gap that has traditionally been thought of as a ‘non-market’ with housing appropriate for older adults and seniors, without creating an institutional feeling. The simple truth is that everyone wants a normal home. When done well, accessibility should be largely invisible.

Real estate professionals with an understanding of meaningful accessibility can broaden their market reach and gain a competitive edge as trusted professionals who understand the considerations of clients with accessibility needs.

Universal Design and Considerations

As real estate professionals, it is important to understand the need for housing that is built to meet the needs of occupants in the present, while being able to anticipate that those needs will change over time.

Examples of this include:

  • Solid backing in the walls and ceilings to accommodate grab bars and lifts in the future
  • Wider doorways throughout the units
  • No-step entrances at the front door
  • Extra electrical outlets – particularly in the bedroom to accommodate charging mobility devices, adjustable beds, CPAP and other equipment
  • Additional insulation in walls and triple pane windows for better acoustics.

Using RHFAC on Your Accessibility Journey

Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC) is a disability lens that can be applied to existing multi-unit residential buildings, as well as new construction, in the design and pre-construction phases. RHFAC takes a comprehensive approach to evaluate accessibility features. It considers the user’s journey, from arrival to entry, navigation within the space, utilization of amenities, and leaving the premises. It is a reference standard that provides common language and common methodology to measure the level of accessibility being provided on any given project. Because of this, the results are measurable between portfolios or against thousands of other projects rated under the RHFAC nationally.

National AccessAbility Week serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of promoting inclusivity in the housing industry. By embracing RHFAC ratings and our online and in-person training opportunities, individuals can actively contribute to the creation of inclusive communities, expand your market reach, and ultimately build the foundation for a healthier and more equitable society. More information and details of training opportunities are available at rickhansen.com.

Credit: Brad McCannell, Vice President, Access & Inclusion, Rick Hansen Foundation

Source: Professional Standards