Ergonomics for smooth, easy operation
Increasingly, ageing Australians are choosing to remain at home or move in with their children in a bid to remain independent and within a familiar, comfortable environment. In June 2017, the ABC reported that 80% of Australians will eventually require aged care; of this, 75% will choose to receive such care at home 3. Against this backdrop, it is important that today’s homes take into consideration the changing abilities and ergonomic requirements of their occupants.
The Australian architecture and design industry is responding to this challenge accordingly, with AS 4299-1995 – Adaptable Housing reflecting an attitudinal change to designing for accessibility and aged care. The Standard recommends designing housing that is equally suitable for the able-bodied, disabled, and aged, and encourages designers to anticipate occupants of varying abilities over the life of a home. There is evidence to suggest that such a proactive approach is financially sensible: according to Livable Housing Australia, preemptively incorporating accessible design features into a home is 22 times more cost efficient than retrofitting when the need arises suddenly (e.g. in the case of an accident).4
One key ability that declines with age is grip strength5,6, which is required to operate handles that need to be gripped or turned. Conventional cupboard doors found in the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living areas often employ such handles and thus may become difficult to operate with age. Sliding doors alleviate this difficulty by way of a simple push/pull operating motion that does not require much force. Requiring very little strength to operate and little to no grip force, sliding doors are easy to use regardless of where they are installed in the house and can be fitted with a myriad of handle options.7
To facilitate accessibility for wheelchair-bound users or those who cannot reach for significant distances, sliding doors can be fitted with a long, easy-to-reach bar handle. Bar handles do not need to be grasped
and pulled with force, and instead simply provide a point for the user to easily push or pull to move the door. Similarly, handleless folding door systems and drawers fitted with magnetic push-to-open mechanisms
can facilitate operation by users with accessibility issues. Smooth and easy to operate with little force, such fittings also eliminate the risk of injury posed by accidentally walking into protruding handles.