What do barrier-free apartments mean

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Universally designed apartments - for everyone!

Author: Dipl. Ing.in (FH) Ulrike Jocham
Extract from the technical article, published in: Orientation - trade journal of the disabled aid, Bundesverband evangelische Behindertenhilfe e.V. (04/2012), pp. 24-28.

In connection with apartments for people with disabilities and the elderly, the term universal design (see additional information) is still relatively seldom used. The fact that there have been positive developments nationwide in the field of living space design for people with disabilities is largely due to the standards for barrier-free construction.

DIN 18040-2 for barrier-free living describes how apartments have to be designed so that to a large extent everyone is able to live "in the generally customary manner, without particular difficulties and basically without outside help". It defines the technical requirements for accessibility. Therefore, the adjective "barrier-free" should only be used for apartments that implement the content of this standard.

DIN standard as the basis for interdisciplinary discourse

The barrier-free designs described therein offer an important technical basis for interdisciplinary discourse and a considerable opportunity to promote the creation of barrier-free apartments, especially for specialists and executives in the field of disabled assistance who work with cooperation partners from the housing and real estate industry. Due to the exclusion practiced up to now in our society, there is an enormous amount of catching up to do in terms of raising awareness of the needs of people with disabilities.

Since people with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, visual impairments, hearing impairments or severe multiple disabilities have in many places far too little taken part in direct life in society, their very different needs for architecture are hardly present among the decision-makers involved in the construction. The dialogue between the disciplines, which is necessary for the framework conditions to be created, offers enormous opportunities in the area of ​​barrier-free construction, but demands education and training in technical subjects from professionals involved in the assistance for the disabled. This is the only way you can assess whether new or existing apartments meet the needs of people with disabilities or whether they can be adapted accordingly.

Change needs suitable living space!

If we want to implement the goals of the UN Convention in the area of ​​housing and, among other things, decentralize complex facilities and enable living space in universally designed neighborhoods, suitable apartments are an indispensable basis for action.

According to the research study "Living in the Elderly - Market Processes and Housing Policy Need for Action" from 2011 by the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development, we currently only have 0.5 million apartments suitable for elderly people in Germany. In these few so-called elderly-friendly apartments, only minimal standards of threshold-free construction were used as a basis.

The study assumes a short-term need for 2.5 million apartments that are suitable for older people with various disabilities. The upcoming need for barrier-free apartments due to the changes in disability assistance with regard to the UN Convention has not been taken into account with this alarmingly low number!

According to a press release by the Federal Statistical Office on September 14, 2010 (325/10), a total of 7.1 million people with severe disabilities were living in Germany at the end of 2009. Of this target group, at least 35% have not yet reached senior age. So we need suitable apartments for a total of 2,485 million people with severe disabilities who are younger than 55 years. Due to outpatientization and decentralization, the number of inpatient places is also of interest, because this target group also needs suitable apartments if they wish to move out.

According to the first report by the Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth on the situation of the homes and the care of the residents from 2006, a total of 178,924 people live in special homes for people with disabilities. This target group should be taken into account by making it possible to move out of the homes when assessing barrier-free or low-barrier housing requirements.

Rental price as a barrier

In addition to the design of the living space, the rental price also represents a frequent barrier to inclusion. On the one hand, there are still very few jobs for people with disabilities on the primary labor market and, on the other hand, a large part of this is used for the costs of assistance even with a good income, Most people with disabilities need apartments the price of which they can pay or the relevant social welfare office is willing to pay. In many areas of Germany, however, these affordable or financially viable apartments are in short supply.

How much privacy can you have?

Many people with disabilities currently only have one room. Common rooms, kitchens and bathrooms often have to be shared with others. Even when moving out projects from larger facilities, e.g. in shared accommodation with outpatient support, the private retreat area often only remains with one room. The universal design, however, demands from living spaces, among other things, a wide range of usability, the greatest possible flexibility and sufficient space in use. Can these claims be met in shared apartments with more than eight people?

In principle, people who receive transfer payments are usually entitled to around 45 square meters of living space with their own kitchen and bathroom in a one-person household - even more due to disabilities. That this does not have to be wishful thinking has been proven, for example, by the now nationwide Bielefeld model, which has proven itself and widespread for years (see additional information).


Apartments viewed from the perspective of universal design

The goal of universal design is, among other things, a design for everyone without a special design. If you look at the DIN standard for barrier-free construction under this design goal, it is noticeable that the standard for barrier-free living (18040 Part 2) differentiates between barrier-free and wheelchair-accessible apartments.
In the barrier-free apartments, movement areas of at least 120 x 120 centimeters must be planned in the necessary places (such as in front of sanitary objects or in the hallway), whereas the movement areas of the wheelchair-accessible apartments must be at least 150 x 150 centimeters. This difference has a considerable effect on the overall size of the individual apartments and on the construction costs. Furthermore, the wheelchair-accessible apartments according to DIN 18040 clearly have a special design and the larger movement areas can be perceived as conspicuous.

The barrier-free apartments with the smaller movement areas of 120 x 120 centimeters do not have to show any rehab character in their design, they usually look like "normal apartments". The important features such as a level shower and threshold-free transitions from the inside to the outside mean greater comfort for everyone.
Even the wheelchair accessible wash basin is now available in various attractive designs. Because it can be driven under, it is suitable for a broader group of users. Barrier-free residential construction with the design goals of universal design is recommended for everyone, including young families - barrier-free properties will be much more marketable than barrier-free properties in a few years due to the alarming demand figures.



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