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Independent Living and Housing

Previously: Disability and Housing
Proposed in 2014, established in 2016


Dianne-Dominique Theakstone (main contact)
The University of Stirling
School of Applied Social Sciences
Tel: +44 1786 473171
Clarine J. van Oel
Delft University of Technology
Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment
Department of Real Estate & Housing
Delft, The Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)15 278 3938 / +31 (0)6 39251087

The Independent Living and Housing Working Group (in-preparation) started up in the first half of 2014. The ENHR conference in July enabled the Chairs to hold a kick-start meeting and discuss with potentially other interested parties, such as Horizon Housing Association, about overall aims and future goals for the group. We recognise that there is a lot of upcoming effort to raise the profile of disability within international housing research strategies and debates. Therefore the following themes and future plans, we hope, will lead to development of this Working Group.

Central Themes

  • Disabled people and their housing conditions, housing preferences, housing design, access to housing services, legal rights (housing and anti-discrimination), housing options and accessible environments;
  • Housing research on disability that adopts a holistic approach towards impairment (loco motional, sensory and cognitive);
  • Promote application of interdisciplinary perspectives to housing research and practice which is related to disabled people;
  • Examination of central concepts to disability and housing such as ‘empowerment’, ‘user-lead’, ‘vulnerability’ or ‘special needs/universal design’.

Activity Summary
The working group held its first workshop at the ENHR 2015 conference in Lisbon, Portugal. The co-chairs would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who took time to present or participate in discussions.
Diverse papers were submitted from representatives from Russia, the Netherlands, Spain, Thailand, Germany, Scotland and Norway. These can be viewed at:

Overall the following issues arose from our discussions:

  1. The need for policies or guidelines to incorporate the needs of sensory and cognitive impairment groups, as well as those who have locomotional impairments;
  2. Accessible housing contributes towards preventative of health conditions due to for example, falls;
  3. More work is required to promote a holistic perspective where accessible housing is located in accessible environments with accessible services and accessible public transport;
  4. Accessible housing should not be perceived as wheel-chair user specificity and instead, recognise suitability for the needs of other disabled people or families;
  5. Projects should ensure that research methods are evaluated for accessibility;
  6. Research plays an important role to enable users’ voices to be heard by caregivers, frontline organisations and policy-makers.

Future plans / activities
For the ENHR conference 2018 in Sweden we will welcome papers that fit in the central theme(s) of the working group and that are based on qualitative, quantitative or mixed-methods research. Theoretical papers are strongly encouraged that might potentially shape the future research in this field. Examples of themes that may be covered by papers submitted to the working group are assistive technologies, universal design, accessible external environments, accessibility of public transport links, a co-production methodology, disability analysis of access to housing across tenures and, the user perspective of specific groups such as individuals that have locomotional, sensory or cognitive impairments. The working group would support ongoing collaborations with the goal of fostering future joint publications and project proposals. We will aim to schedule in networking discussions to develop research ambitions during the working group. Hopefully this will raise the profile of independent living as a distinct significant area within housing studies. Connections shall be made with other conferences such as the Nordic Network on Disability Research. This will be held on 8-10th-8 May 2019 in Denmark and we are currently in discussion to submit a paper, poster or symposium on behalf of the Working Group. The deadline for abstracts will open in 2018, date to be confirmed. .

Policy implications
The overall aims of this Working Group are to promote a holistic perspective toward policy-making across countries. By raising the profile of disability and housing, we hope that the associated issues will inform the evidence base that shapes decision-making processes. For example at the 2015 ENHR conference the papers submitted to this working group exhibited diverse insights in to the living conditions of disabled people across Europe. Solvar Wago & Karin Hoyland’s paper highlighted that the Norwegian Disability Discrimination and Accessibility Act (2009) requires adjustment to take in to account the needs of different groups of disabled people within society.

María Aránzazu Calzadilla Medina delivered a law perspective in relation to disabled peoples’ housing in Spain. It critically assessed the various amendments that the Spanish Horizontal Property Act 49/1960 (21st July) has gone through which revealed that progress is going in the right direction. However, barriers still exist where it is not a right to have freedom to access a person’s home or work environment and, payment schemes for adaptations are subject to variable supplementary fees and opposition from communities for potentially expensive costs.

Andreas Plum’s paper illustrated the lived experiences of disablement. This paper presented results from a survey of disabled people in Dresden. It concluded that there is a need for more barrier free housing and living spaces, especially with current aging populations with an associated increasing impairment levels. In the Netherlands, Clarine van Oel outlined the ways practice can be improved through the user-perspective. Her research demonstrated a methodology involving 3D virtual reality preferences whereby participants with dementia chose colour schemes, surface finish and space dimensions of a care-home hallway. Results indicated areas of conflict between the preferences of users and caregivers. For example the former preferred a white or warm colour scheme, while caregivers’ assumed a warm colour scheme would feel more welcoming.

Aleksandra Burdyak discussed the emotional implications for disabled people living in inaccessible homes in Russia. Attention was particularly drawn to the challenges of estimating the numbers of disabled people through national statistics, different definitions of disability and potential areas where disabled people can be missed from data sets. Result from a telephone survey showed that disabled people in Russia experience social isolation, low incomes and high medical costs. Aleksandra Burdyak concluded that policy is required for future barrier free homes/environments and to address the emotional wellbeing of disabled citizens.

In Thailand, Sasicha Sukkay’s paper outlined the benefits of joint working. She explained that collaboration between physiotherapists, architects and disabled people, has helped to identify the need for improved accessibility standards within bedrooms and bathrooms. This work will be presented to the Thailand government to shape future policy. Dianne-Dominique Theakstone presented a proposition of a Citizenship of Humanity. This emerged from a comparative study of disabled peoples’ access to independent living in Scotland and Norway. The Citizenship of Humanity model addressed the need for disabled peoples’ access to independent living, in policy and practice, to be facilitated at micro, meto and macro levels of societies.