14 July, 2010 – According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the number of people with a disability more than doubled to nearly 4 million in the two decades to 2003.

But embedding design features into a house, such as reinforced bathroom walls, smart positioning of power points and wider corridors can make the world of difference and give disabled people a greater chance to live in their own homes and be independent.

Now, after many years of hard work behind the scenes, the residential development and property industry have agreed to a voluntary standard for “universal” housing that would encompass such features and could be in place for all new homes by 2020.

Led by the Property Council, Master Builders Australia and the Housing Industry Association, the industry has negotiated with social services organisations and government agencies to deliver the “disability-friendly Livable Housing Design” standards announced this week.

It establishes three levels of design: Silver, Gold and Platinum with separate features attached to each.

Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities Bill Shorten, who convened the National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design last year that led to the standards, said more adaptable homes were important as Australia’s population aged and disability became more common.

“Livable homes are specifically designed to evolve over time and better cater for the changing needs of families with young children and those with disabilities, particularly seniors,” Mr Shorten said.

“These are homes which are easier to live in, can be adapted more cheaply, and will be easier to sell.

“Families with young children, anyone who suffers a temporary injury, or who has a friend with disability, will also benefit from Livable Housing Design.”

The guidelines will also provide useful information for consumers seeking to introduce universal design features into a new home and could be applied when renovating an existing home.

Property Council CEO Peter Verwer said that Livable Housing Design had great potential.

“It has low costs and huge returns both for homeowners and the broader community,” Mr Verwer said.

According to ABS estimates, the number of Australians with disabilities will continue to increase through the first half of this century, due to the ageing of Australia’s population.

View the National Dialogue on Universal Housing Design Strategic Plan here.

Some key points of the Plan follow


Universal Housing Design means designing Australian homes to meet the changing needs of home occupants across their lifetime.

It recommends the inclusion of key easy living features that aim to make homes easier and safer to use for all occupants including: people with disability, ageing Australians, people with temporary injuries, and families with young children.

A universally designed home should:

  • Be easy to enter;
  • Be easy to move in and around;
  • Be capable of easy and cost-effective adaptation; and
  • Be designed to anticipate and respond to the changing needs of home occupants.

A universally designed home seeks to enhance the quality of life for all occupants at all stages of their life by including safer and more user friendly design features.


The National Dialogue members have agreed to pursue an aspirational target that all new homes will be of an agreed Universal Housing Design standard by 2020 with interim targets to be set within that 10-year period.

The Strategic Plan recommends a number of steps that, with the support of the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, the ageing, disability and community support sectors and the residential building and property industry, can help to:

  • Establish nationally agreed performance and technical guidelines for Universal Housing Design;
  • Promote greater understanding of the value of Universal Housing Design within the community;
  • Promote the education and training of the residential building and property industry in Universal Housing Design practices;
  • Identify appropriate incentives and mechanisms to assist in achieving the agreed aspirational target.


The Strategic Plan is focused on increasing national awareness of the issues around Universal Housing Design and to set out a program to help all Australians realise its benefits in their own homes.

Housing Targets

National Dialogue members propose a 10-year timeframe for the implementation of this Strategic Plan, with the aspirational target being that all new homes will be of an agreed  Universal Housing Design standard by 2020.

The agreed interim targets for voluntary uptake of the Guidelines for all new residential housing are:

• 25 per cent to bronze level by 2013
• 50 per cent to bronze level by 2015
• 75 per cent to bronze level by 2018
• 100 per cent to bronze level by 2020

National Dialogue members believe that the Commonwealth and all state and territory government providers of social housing should commit to delivering all new public housing to an agreed Universal Housing Design standard. The targets proposed for the uptake of the Guidelines by the Commonwealth and states are:

• 100 per cent to bronze level by 2011
• 50 per cent to silver level by 2014
• 75 per cent to silver level by 2017
• 100 per cent to silver level by 2019


What are the drivers?

1. Ageing population

A key driver for adopting Universal Housing Design principles lies in the significant demographic change taking place in Australia. In 2007, there were 3.35 million people aged 60 years and over representing 17 per cent of the population. By 2050, this figure is set to rise to 26 per cent. Recent increases in life expectancy for older Australians have also been accompanied by an increase in years of life lived with disability.

Ageing baby boomer, many of whom have both the financial resources and desire to live independently, add to the sectors of the community who will be looking for more flexible housing design.

2. An unmet need

Australians born with or who acquire a disability during their lifetime can also significantly benefit from Universal Housing Design.

One in five Australians has a disability. Of the 4 million people who have a disability, 84 per cent are affected by a physical condition or limitation that restricts everyday activities. Physical disability remains the most commonly reported disability among people aged less than 65 years. Conservatively, it is estimated that close to 3 million people, or 16 per cent, of the Australian population have one or more physically disabling conditions.

Of the 20 per cent, families who have a child with disability represent a specific market for universally designed homes. One in 12 children aged between 0-14 years has a disability, representing 317,900 children. After learning/intellectual disability, physical disability is the second most prevalent disability amongst children accounting for 162,800 children or 4.2 per cent of all children.

Conservatively one in 10 households has a person with disability that requires some level of assistance with daily activities. Furthermore, research undertaken in the United States estimates that there is a 60 per cent probability that a new house will be occupied by at least one person with disability over its lifetime (assumed to be 40 years). The probability increases to 91 per cent when you account for visits by friends and relatives who have a disability.

A universally designed home has benefits for people who have a physical limitation or mobility impairment. However features such as a continuous path of travel to a level entrance are equally beneficial to people who are blind or have low vision and those affected by endurance issues.

3. Changing life circumstances

Ability is not static and changes throughout a person’s lifetime. While some Australians are born with disability, the most commonly reported cause of physical limitations and impairment for people of all ages is an accident or injury (22 per
cent). Over 14,000 hospitalisations a year result from sporting injuries. While these hospitalisations do not all impact upon mobility, the incidence of temporary disability as a result of injury is increasing. Incorporating Universal Housing Design features would enable a home to better accommodate changing needs and abilities of the home’s occupants.

4. Growing consumer interest

Finally, a national survey conducted with older homeowners has found 78 per cent support Universal Housing Design principles in their own home and over 60 per cent support the widespread incorporation of Universal Housing Design principles in
Australian housing. Further, qualitative focus group research with people including recent homebuyers, builders and renovators and people aged 60-plus has shown that Australians believe that Universal Housing Design features makes a home safer
and more functional for all people.

The members of the National Dialogue are:
• Australian Human Rights Commission
• Australian Institute of Architects
• Australian Local Government Association
• Australian Network for Universal Housing Design
• COTA Australia
• Grocon
• Housing Industry Association
• Lend Lease
• Master Builders Australia
• National People with Disabilities and Carers Council
• Office of the Disability Council of NSW
• Property Council of Australia
• Real Estate Institute of Australia
• Stockland

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