What Type of Knowledge Provides Valid Housing Standards Addressing Accessibility? Problematization of the Existing Knowledge Based on Examples Using an Activity-based Approach

Tina Helle, Åse Brandt, Susanne Iwarsson

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper/skriftligt oplægForskning


ObjectiveThe overarching aim was to contribute to the advancement of the validity of the housing standards addressing accessibility. The specific aim was to explore the use of an activity-based approach to examine the validity of a set of housing standards.State of the artHousing standards addressing accessibility are intended to accommodate people with functional limitations (Preiser and Ostroff, 2001). Architects use the standard to steer by during the design process (Nickpour and Dong, 2009). It is therefore crucial that standards are defined in a way that actually sustain accessible design, i.e. that they are valid. In this respect, validity refers to a general usage of the term, addressing how well-funded knowledge is and how accurately it corresponds to the real world (Encyclopedia Britannica Online, 2007). That is, validity means that the standards are defined to allow people with functional limitations and dependence on mobility devices to have access to housing design features as a means to be able to interact with the environment to perform a range of everyday activities in the dwelling. However, in a comprehensive literature review in search of scientific publications with a potential to inform housing standards addressing accessibility that accommodate adult people with physical functional limitations using/not using mobility devices (Helle et al., 2011), it was found that the existing knowledge:•Derived from the field of anthropometry and ergonomics•Focused on isolated accessibility aspects such as either reach, seat height or space requirements•Targeted primarily industrial workstation design and only wheelchair/scooter users•Addressed positions (standing/seated) and sex difference with respect to reach•Was generated in lab-like environments, using methods of a technical character, such as electromechanical probes, registration of 3D body locations and wheelchair landmarks and computerized systems (Das and Kozey, 1999; Ringeart et al., 2001; Paquet and Feathers, 2004; Kozey and Das, 2004; Steinfeld et al., 2004; 2010; D’Souza et al., 2009). That is, although housing standards are intended to support accessibility, investigations involving people interacting with realistic housing environments as a means to perform real everyday activities have so far not been performed even if such studies would intuitively seem appropriate for the investigation of the validity of housing standards. Therefore, it is reasonable to question what type of knowledge that provides the most valid standards addressing accessibility and explore the consequences of using an alternative approach. The idea was thus to examine the validity of a set of housing standards using a so-called activity-based approach in order to consider the consequences of the type of knowledge that informs the standards.MethodologyFor exemplification purposes, an ordinary kitchen was designed according to 12 housing standards addressing accessibility, operationalized by means of 12 items of the environmental component of the Nordic version of the Housing Enabler instrument (Iwarsson and Slaug, 2008). Participants 60 years of age or older; living in ordinary dwellings; used to preparing lunch and coffee and cleaning up afterwards; having physical functional limitations were included. Thirty participants were sampled into three groups according to their mobility device use; those not using a mobility device (n=10), those using a rollator (n=10), and those using a manual or powered wheelchair (n=10). Data on accessibility problems were collected by means of a study specific observation scheme, tested for basic psychometric properties and observation notes. Accessibility problems were recorded on a four point ordinal scale (no problems, minor problems, severe problems, impossible) according to the effectiveness and efficiency with which the participants interacted with the environment to perform the kitchen activities defined as: open the door and enter the kitchen, prepare an open-faced sandwich and make a cup of coffee, clean and leave the kitchen, close the door behind. Descriptive statistics were used to examine the distribution of the observation data, which were subsequently graphically displayed. A classical contents analysis technique was used for categorizing and analyzing the content of the observation notes (Kohlbacher, 2006). The statistical analyses were performed using SPSS version 20. ResultsThe design features, for which the standards were examined that caused the most frequent/severe accessibility problems across the three groups of participants were the wall cupboards’ upper shelves and the base units’ lower shelves. The participants who used no mobility devices had the least frequent/severe accessibility problems. However, each of the examined design features relevant to this group of participants caused minor to severe accessibility problems. For those using a rollator, all 12 design features caused accessibility problems. The design features causing the most frequent and severe problems were: the base units’ lower shelves, the wall cupboards’ upper shelves, the threshold and the floor space by domestic appliances. As to those using a wheelchair, accessibility problems were found for at least five participants for each of the 12 design features. The design features causing the most frequent and severe accessibility problems to those using a wheelchair were: the wall cupboards’ upper shelves, the base units’ lower shelves, the thresholds, the floor space by domestic appliances, the floor space, the floor space turning, and the wall cupboards’ upper shelves.The observation notes showed that the mobility devices were used for transportation purposes, such as for bringing objects from A to B. Moreover, the rollator was used to sit on during the kitchen activities. Some participants used the environment to compensate for their functional limitations, e.g. by grabbing hold on the door frame while walking through the door, or leaning against the kitchen counter. The notes also showed that none of the 30 participants ever turned around 180 degrees during the activity. Besides, only few participants stood in front of the domestic appliances although the standard requires 130cm in front of these. Instead, the participants used the domestic appliances laterally. As concerns the stove, apparently the problem was not the 130cm in front of it but rather the lack of legroom beneath the stove. Finally, it was noted that persons using mobility devices had to close the side hung door by squeezing their fingers in between the door leaf and the door frame, giving the door a push. Contributions and implicationsBy means of using an activity-based approach it was found that the examined housing standards were not valid, especially not for those using mobility devices. The extent to which a given environmental design feature is accessible depends on the interaction between the person, the mobility device, the environment and the activity. In line with previous research on older people’s use of mobility devices in everyday activities (Löfqvist et al., 2008), it was found that mobility devices formed part of the activity, since the mobility devices were used for transportation of e.g. a cup of coffee that was placed on the rollator or in the lap of those using a wheelchair. Forcing a threshold with a cup of coffee differs substantially from forcing it without, because the coffee will likely topple, which will decrease accessibility. In addition, half of those using a rollator sat on it during parts of the activity. This gives rise to different environmental demands, e.g. in terms of space for legroom under the kitchen counter and the height of the kitchen counter. The environment also formed part of the activity like e.g. the door frame or the kitchen counter, which supports the findings of Lawton (1975). These findings demonstrate the importance of including the mobility devices into the investigation of the standards addressing accessibility, the value of examining accessibility in realistic environments, and the relevance of examining accessibility in the context of real everyday activities. That is, accessibility is a much complex and dynamic phenomenon than reflected in the knowledge identified in the literature review previously mentioned. Therefore, it may be argued that in order to improve validity of the standards addressing accessibility, it is necessary to utilize approaches applicable to capture such interactions. This supports Kirvesoja et al. (2000) stating that knowledge on human body size alone is not sufficiently for the design of accommodating environments to older people, why it may be difficult to apply models of ergonomics and anthropometry, with the static standardized measures for the establishment of valid housing standards addressing accessibility. Based on findings of the present study, it was understood that assessing for instance reach capacity according to a person’s position (seated or standing), sex, or type of mobility device, may be insufficient for the examination of the validity of housing standard definitions although, these factors are often the unit of analysis in ergonomic and anthropometry (see e.g. Kozey and Das, 2004; Pacquet and Feathers, 2004) It was also learned that some standards are not defined in a manner that duly enhances accessibility because the definitions do not cater for the way older people with mobility devices actually interact with the environment. One example is the standard for floor space by the domestic appliances, positing 130 cm in front of the domestic appliances. This space was not used. Instead, the real accessibility problem appeared in terms of lack of legroom beneath or next to the domestic appliances. Based on these results, the standpoint is that standard definitions not anchored in reality are of poor relevance and hence, may have poor validity. Moreover, it was found that there is a need for additional standards such as space for legroom next to domestic appliances or for enabling door closing of those using mobility devices. Therefore, in line with the findings of others, there is a need for a research-based revision of the standards (Steinfeld et al., 2010; Helle et al., 2011). Further, there is a need for a critical review of the validity of the current housing standards addressing accessibility, including identification of potentially lacking standards. It is argued that these results could only have occurred based on the use of this so-called activity-based approach. As demonstrated by the results, it is important to critically consider the type of knowledge that informs the standards addressing accessibility.ConclusionThis publication represents a critical stance on the type of knowledge that informs housing standards addressing accessibility. The results showed that the overall validity of the examined housing standards is poor, because the standards do not truly accommodate older people with functional limitations. Such a revision may benefit older people using a wheelchair in particular, but also those using a rollator and even those who do not use mobility device may benefit. Based on the encouraging methodological experiences gained by using an activity-based approach to examine if standards addressing accessibility truly accommodate the population they are intended to support, it is recommended to further consider and explore the use of this kind of approaches. Since different design features generate accessibility problems to a different extent depending on the functional capacity and type of mobility device in question, it is recommended to include people across a spectrum of functional limitations when examining the validity of standard definitions.ReferencesEncyclopedia Britannica Online (2007). www.britannica.com. Das, B. & Kozey, J.W. (1999). Structural anthropometric measures for wheelchair mobile adults. Applied Ergonomics. 30:385–390. D’Souza, C., Steinfeld, E. & Paquet, V. (2009). Functional reach abilities of wheeled mobility device users: toward inclusive design. In: Proceedings of the 2009 International Conference on Inclusive Design, INCLUDE 2009, Royal College of Art, London. Helle, T., Brandt, Å., Slaug. B. & Iwarsson. S. (2011) Lack of research-based standards for accessible housing: problematization and exemplification of consequences. International Journal of Public Health 56, 635-644.Iwarsson, S., & Slaug, B. (2008). Housing Enabler – et redskab til vurdering og analyse af tilgængelighedsproblemer i boligen. (Danish translation of Iwarsson & Slaug, 2000). Nävlinge och Staffanstorp, Sverige: Veten & Skapen HB & Slaug Data Management. Kirvesoja, H., Väyrynen. S., & Häikiö. A. (2000). Three evaluations of task-surface heights in elderly people’s homes. Applied Ergonomics, 31, 109-119.Kohlbacher, F. (2006). The use of qualitative content analysis in case study research. Forum: Qualitative social research sozialforschung (FQS), Open Journal Systems, vol 7, No1.Kozey, J.W. & Das, B. (2004). Determination of the normal and maximum reach measures of adult wheelchair users. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. 33:205–213. Löfqvist, C., Nygren, C., Brandt, Å., & Iwarsson, S. (2008). Very old Swedish women’s experiences of mobility devices in everyday occupation – A longitudinal case study. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 16, 181-192.Nickpour, F., & Dong, H. (2009). Anthropometrics without numbers! An investigation of designers’ use and preference of people data. Include 2009, Royal College of Art, April 8–10, 2009, London, available from http://www.hhc.rca.ac.uk/2084/all/1/procedings.aspxPaquet, V. & Feathers, D. (2004). An anthropometric study of manual and powered wheelchair users. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics. 33:191–204. Preiser, W.F.E., & Ostroff, E. (2001). Universal Design Handbook. McGraw-Hill. USA.Ringaert, L., Rapson, D., Qui, J., Cooper, J., & Schwedyk, E. (2001). Determination of new dimensions for universal design codes and standards with consideration of powered wheelchair and scooter users. Universal Design Institute, Faculty of Architecture, University of Manitoba. Website: http://www.arch.umanitoba.ca/UofM/CIBFD. Steinfeld, E., Paquet, V. & Feathers, D. (2004). Space requirements for wheeled mobility devices. In: Proceedings of the human factors and ergonomics society 48th annual meeting. Steinfeld, E., Maisel, J., Feathers, D., & D’Souza, C. (2010). Anthropometry and standards for wheeled mobility: an international comparison. Assistive Technology, 22, 51–67.
Publikationsdatosep. 2013
Antal sider5
StatusUdgivet - sep. 2013
BegivenhedAAATE - Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe - Vilamoura, Portugal
Varighed: 18 sep. 201322 sep. 2013


KonferenceAAATE - Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology in Europe


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