Written: Ir MA Lee Tak

Getting an ideal home is nothing easy in Hong Kong due to soaring property prices as a result of scarce land resources.  It is not uncommon that families with younger and older generations are living under the same roof in cramped conditions.  Therefor when planning an age-friendly home for the elderly, the needs of other family members have to be taken into account as well.  Universal Design will help in this particular situation.
Universal Design is an emerging approach which aims to create a more user-friendly and safe living environment by incorporating features accommodating the widest possible range of user needs.  Universal Design embodies safety, convenience and the barrier-free concept.  It takes account of space efficiency, accessibility, flexibility and identity, as well as cost effectiveness.  As we have different needs at various times of our lives, such as when falling ill or getting old, Universal Design is playing an inclusive role to satisfy all such needs.  The Hong Kong Housing Society has thus published the Universal Design Guidebook For Residential Development In Hong Kong for public reference.
You may get some helpful tips from the said Guidebook when considering the everyday person-to-person nursing care for your elders with poor mobility or in a wheelchair.  More attention should be paid to bathrooms and toilets which are indeed the worst potential hazards at home.
It is recommended that bathtubs should be replaced with walk-in showers using sliding doors to save space.  A sturdy seat, preferably adjustable in height, should be provided inside a shower cubicle.  Right beside the shower seat, a horizontal handrail should be installed from the rear seat wall to the adjacent wall at a height of 750mm from the floor of the shower cubicle.
Slip-resistant shower floor grilles may be installed to provide a level surface for standing, while the slanting drained surface beneath the grilles allows water to drain away so that it would not be slippery on top of the grilles.  Alternatively, channel drains can be put in place along the border of the shower floor, with the floor surface inclining towards the channel drains for easy drainage.  Showers should have flexible hoses and sliding rails so that the height of showerheads can be adjusted for showering or hair washing.
To facilitate use by people in wheelchairs, it is recommended that knee space not less than 650mm should be provided under washbasins, preferably with no cabinets.  Where there is a need, shallow cabinets may be provided in combination with semi-countertop washbasins.  At the washbasin, a tap/faucet with a pull-out flexible hose may be installed for hair washing.  The rim of a washbasin counter shall be not higher than 800mm above floor level.
It is suggested that the seat of a water closet should be at a height of 450mm-480mm above floor level, and flushing controls be at a height of 600mm-1100mm above floor level.  At least one horizontal handrail should be installed at the side of the water closet, with a length of not less than 600mm and at a height of 750mm above floor level.
The details above aim to meet the needs of older persons and their families so that bathroom and toilet facilities can be used safely at all times.