Australia should introduce regulations which ensure that all new housing is built to standards which are accessible and comfortable for elderly people or people who suffer from disabilities, the leader of one of the nation’s most influential lobby groups for housing access and affordability says.

Following the release of a paper which indicates the housing industry is expected to meet less than five per cent of its goal for all new housing to be constructed to an agreed universal design standard by 2020, National Shelter chief executive officer Adrian Pisarski said regulation was needed in order to ensure that basic standards of universal design became the standard throughout the design and construction sector in Australia.

Pisarski says planning rules should mandate accessible design for all new housing as a condition of the approval, adding that universal design principles should be embedded into the National Construction Code.

“I’m of the view now that we really need to regulate and create that pressure from the system that means people have to put these things in and make them standard products,” Pisarski said, referring to basic features such as step-free showers and handrails on stairways which make movement around the house less difficult for those who suffer from impairment.

“These are features that really anybody could live with and enjoy, but which mean that it is then possible to either have someone with a disability living there or to adapt the property for someone with a disability.

“This stuff should be standard design.”

Around Australia, awareness about the need to design and build housing which is suitable for residents and visitors who suffer from disability and/or impairment has been steadily increasing.

In 2010, a number of disability advocates, property developers and regulators agreed to targets that would see all new housing designed and built according to minimum livable housing design standards by 2020 under the Livable Housing Australia initiative.

In a recent paper, however, National Shelter along with Griffith University and the Queenslanders With Disability Network say that less than five per cent of this target is likely to be reached.

Disinterest amongst private builders meant that the industry has not changed its practices, the paper argues.

Pisarski says many builders recognise the importance of accessible design but operate under a mistaken belief about a lack of demand for livable housing. An absence of regulation also means there is little in the way of push factors in order to drive minimum standards in this area, he adds.

“I think people want to do the right thing but without that pressure from the regulatory system telling them that they have to, they seem to find reasons not to deliver this.” Pisarski said.

According to guidelines published by Livable Housing Australia, critical design aspects of accessible housing are largely summarised in eight key principles.

According to these principles, accessible houses should include safe and continuous travel from areas to an entrance which is level, at least one step-free entrance into the building, internal doors which facilitate unimpeded movement between spaces, a ground floor toilet, step-free access showers, reinforced walls around toilets to support grabrail installation, continuous handrails on stairways and stairways which reduce the likelihood of injury.