Prioritise needs of Persons With Disability in housing
The housing deficit in Ghana has reached alarming proportions (estimated to be 1.7 million in 2017).
In an attempt to bridge the gap, a lot of initiatives and policies are being developed and the construction of housing and residential development is on the rise, fuelled by the high demand for dwelling units.
Although many housing and residential facilities are in the offing by both private and government institutions, my biggest concern is how best these developments address the needs of Persons with Disability (PWD) and the aged. PWD refers to individuals with a physical, mental or sensory impairment including a visual, hearing or speech functional disability which gives rise to physical, cultural or social barriers that substantially limit one or more of the major life activities of that individual (Persons with Disability Act, 2006, Act 715).
A visit to the flats and estates the Social Security and National Insurance Trust constructed over the years, or the many housing units constructed by the State Housing Company and the multi-family low and mid-rise projects undertaken by members of the Ghana Real Estate Development Association, lead to one conclusion; our housing policies have failed to address the needs of PWD.
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The Ministry of Works and Housing has not prioritised the needs of PWD in recent housing projects even though Act 715 makes mention of the measures to be taken such as Section 6 of the Act which states that: ‘The owner of a place to which the public has access shall provide appropriate facilities that make the place accessible to and available for use by PWD.” Section 60 of the Act, also states that “the owner or occupier of an existing building to which the public has access shall within 10 years of the Act make that building accessible and available for use by PWD.” These provisions are not being implemented.
We often lose sight of the fact that persons who have disability far outnumber persons with disability from birth. Ageing, infectious diseases, traffic accidents, natural disasters and small arms proliferation cause injuries and impairment that lead to disabilities of many kinds. Road accidents, for instance, account for many disabilities every year among the youth and the old alike. Yet our attitude towards the needs of PWD is as if we are immune from all forms of disability.
Reversing the current trend
Prioritising the needs of PWD in housing facilities will mean creating an environment which allows them to live independently, through adaptability measures.
Adaptability refers to housing design features which allow a dwelling unit to be modified to meet the needs of residents with a range of disabilities. These include emergency alarm systems, braille and tactile markings, larger bathrooms, larger kitchens, wider doorways, grab bars, detectable tactile control warnings, faucet controls, wheel-chair stairlifts, colour contrast, switches and socket outlets of adequate height, ramps, etc.
Developing Adapted Housing Facilities (housing facilities intended to be occupied by PWD from the initiation of building occupancy) may prove difficult presently but there must be opportunities for Adaptable Housing Facilities (Adaptable Housing is used when it is not known who will live in a building before it is designed and can, therefore, be easily modified to meet the needs of any future resident).
It must be the policy of the government to have adapted dwelling units for PWD on all government- financed housing projects. The cost of including accessible features during the construction phase is advisable. Making buildings accessible adds less than one per cent to the construction cost. Real Estate Developers must also prioritise the needs of PWD by providing adaptable units in their development. Providing ramps and wheelchair accessible toilets alone are not enough. To encourage private developers to do more for PWD, the government of Ghana must develop new policies, especially in the permitting process for building, and also offer generous incentives.
Citizens who are yet to build their residential facilities should equally consider adaptable units. Nursing homes, senior housing facilities and retirement communities are not common in Ghana and most elderly people live with family members. Adaptable units can, therefore, serve the needs of the frail and elderly who require a supportive environment in order to cope with the demands of daily living. These considerations will help relieve any difficulties associated with caring for the aged and PWD in non-accessible residential properties.
The National Council on PWD must do a lot more to help bring awareness of rights and privileges required by PWD. The council must bring pressure to bear on the relevant authorities to ensure that old residential buildings are refurbished or retrofitted to include accessible design features. Architects and builders have an important role to play by devising innovative ways to incorporate adaptable design features as well as educating clients on its relevance. Hopefully, by so doing, future housing designs will adequately address the needs of PWD.
The writer is an urban designer at Habitance Hub, an urban planning and design studio in Accra.