Tuesday, 16 Aug 2022  |  Reading time:  13 mins  | Read online

Accessible housing and infrastructure

For this edition we're looking at how local authorities can plan for inclusion, removing barriers to participation for disabled people.

Global interest in the accessibility of our housing and environments is rising, driven by a number of factors. Firstly, the prevalence of disability is high and increasing – 15% of the global population experience disability, rising to 25% in some regions. The primary reasons for this are an increase in chronic illnesses (partly due to improved survival rates) and demographic changes; namely that all regions of the world are experiencing population ageing. In countries with life expectancies above 70 years, a person can now expect to spend 8 years of their life living with a disability.

Secondly, societies are increasingly taking note of concerns raised by the disability sector, increasing the profile of accessibility issues with impacts on policy at all scales. Recent human rights-based approaches to disability consider that people are disabled not just by the conditions they have, but by the way our environments have been designed to (not) include them.

As the level of governance closest to people, local authorities have an essential role in removing barriers to participation, ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities are taken into account in all decisions at the local level. By planning the environments around us with disability in mind, municipalities can put universal design at the centre of built environment renovations in the public realm. And, as highlighted in today's featured article, local authorities are uniquely positioned to improve the supply and quality of accessible housing.


This week's featured content

Accessible housing: a global challenge for local authorities
By Kat McManus, LGIU

This article provides an overview of the global challenges of accessible housing for local authorities, outlining target areas for impactful change toward closing the supply gap.

Current shortages of good-quality, affordable housing are problematic for vast regions of the world (less than half of the OECD population is satisfied with its availability). Yet for disabled people, the challenge is even greater. Regardless of whether the disability is physical, mental, or sensory, finding housing to match a person’s exact needs is even more difficult given the shortage of accessible housing in most areas of the world – much less at a reasonable price (disabled people are more likely to have lower incomes and face higher costs of living).

As a result, many people with disabilities live in accommodation which is unsuitable for their needs. Data is patchy, but the OECD reports that just 1-10% of the housing stock in most countries has more than one accessibility feature (such as a step-free entryway or ground floor bathroom). An Equality and Human Rights Commission report for the UK titled highlighted that just 7% of the current housing stock was accessible. Meanwhile, a recent survey from Australia found that three-quarters of households including disabled people lived in housing that did not fulfil their needs. While no one should be living in unsuitable accommodation for extended time periods, the adverse impacts on disabled people in particular can be severe, further limiting mobility and making everyday tasks tiring. A UK study found that people with an unmet need for accessible housing were four times more likely to be unemployed.

So how can local government close the gap?


LGIU Global Local Highlights


Understanding, engaging and representing the disabled community: “Don’t be the barrier, be the empowerer”
We sat down with Nigel Long to discuss the launch of his new training and consulting agency, Action Disability, and what he hopes for the future of the agency and the overall disability agenda across local government. Click here to read this interview.

Digital infrastructure is key to meeting future housing and care needs
This briefing highlights the growing importance of digital technology in helping a wide range of people to remain independent in their own homes and to be served or supported in achieving independent living. Click here to read this briefing.


Age-friendly towns in Ireland
As an affiliated member country to the World Health Organization’s 'Age-Friendly Programme', Ireland has been working to develop age-friendly towns across the country. This briefing outlines the type of work being carried out by councils as part of the initiative and signposts some helpful resources for creating inclusive places. Click here to read this briefing.

Celebrate the great work of locally elected representatives everywhere!

The LGIU and CCLA Cllr awards have recognised the work of councillors for more than a decade in England, Scotland and Wales. And we’re now showcasing the work of local leaders around the globe. 

Nominate an amazing councillor for our awards scheme in Great Britain or for the Global Local Cllr Showcase

Innovation & Inspiration

Curated case studies and news from around the globe

USA: Innovative housing project supports adults with autism
The Sweetwater Spectrum housing development in Sonoma, California is a planned housing community for adults with autism. People with autism can be sensitive to light, sound, movement and cluttered and crowded spaces. The Sweetwater site addresses this through a design centred on autism-specific principles intended to promote a sense of calm. These include simple and clear design elements, muted colours, and noise-minimising features. The wider facility offers shared community spaces, including therapy pools and an urban farm, while providing a range of educational and skills training. The development, which houses up to 16 adults at a time across four houses, has served as a model for several new autism-focused communities and developments created across the US since its launch in 2013. 

Sweden: City improves accessibility of new and old districts in collaboration with disability organisations
Jönköping, Sweden, is renowned for its picturesque terrain and lakeside location, which presents a challenge for accessibility. To tackle this, the city has worked with disability organisations to improve accessibility in new and old parts in the city. Public buildings and infrastructures, such as libraries and concert halls, now feature tactile signage and maps, easy to read facilities, audio descriptions, and wheelchair access. The city consults its citizens and disability groups when developing new buildings to ensure their accessibility needs are met, and has also renovated 120 of its public playgrounds to improve accessibility. Finally, the city created its own reward scheme for organisations and businesses that have collaborated with customers to improve accessibility. For its improvements, the city received the 2021 Access City Award. 
European Commission

Australia: Melbourne pilot uses Bluetooth audio cues to help visually impaired indoors
In a bid to change how visually impaired people navigate indoor public spaces, an eight-month pilot scheme was held in Melbourne in 2018 which saw Bluetooth audio cues installed in the Southern Cross station rail terminal. While the visually impaired can rely to some extent on GPS while navigating public spaces, this can become more difficult in indoor settings, where mobile signal can be inconsistent or absent. To address this, a pilot run by the City of Melbourne, Public Transport Victoria and Guide Dogs Victoria installed wireless Bluetooth beacons inside the terminal, offsetting any loss of signal preventing important information from reaching users. The Bluetooth beacons provide audio cues detailing users’ exact location and what they can expect in their journey, such as upcoming doors and stairwells. 
The Age

Luxembourg: City employs ‘Design for All’ approach to improve accessibility

In 2022, the City of Luxembourg received the Access City Award for its commitment to make accessibility a priority for all. Luxembourg was recognised for its ‘Design for All’ approach, where all developments, products and services must be accessible to people with disabilities. This is notable in its public transport, with low-floor ramped buses, audio-visual announcements at bus stops, and clear and widespread signage at rail stations, providing guidance on handrails, parking spaces and elevators for disabled people, the elderly, and tourists alike. Many of the city’s displays have text-to-speech functionality, while important updates are delivered via automated audio announcements. 

European Commission

Policy & Resources

Case studies: Good practices of accessible urban development
This UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs bundle presents case studies from developing and developed cities, highlighting successful practices in improving and promoting accessibility in urban development contexts, with a focus on housing, public spaces and public services. Backgrounds, initiatives, beneficiaries, funding sources, demonstrable changes, shortcomings and methods used to monitor improvement are listed with each case study.

Report: A crisis on the horizon: Ensuring affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities
This report provides a useful guide to the state of the accessible housing challenge for OECD and EU countries. Drawing from a huge wealth of international data, it discusses the primary policy supports being used and draws lessons on how to address the challenge, summarising outcomes and outlining actions for policy makers going forward.

Award-winning inspiration: Examples of best practice in making EU cities more accessible
Details on the initiatives of winners and nominees for the EU’s Access City Awards are featured in a series of publications that can be accessed here. Each report is engaging, concise and practical in its coverage of the cities’ work.

Toolkit: Inclusive design standards for the built environment
The Global Disability Innovation Hub has released Inclusive Design Standards for public use, which examine best practice for inclusive design across residential developments, public buildings, neighbourhoods and public transport. Despite largely drawing from experiences in London, the standards are applicable across locations and disciplines, covering features such as accessible signage, street furniture, student accommodation, and unisex toilets.

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If you would like to share your story, you can fill in this simple form or drop me a line at [email protected]. Please forward this free newsletter to a colleague or share it on social media to help us reach even more people who value local government globally. We tweet from @GlobalLocalLGIU.

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