Lack of ‘wheelchair liveable’ housing due to building regulations, committee told

Wheelchair Association calls on government to raise accessibility standards for new houses

A lack of “wheelchair liveable” housing and adequate toilet facilities is leading to the exclusion of people with disabilities from Irish society, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Building regulations stipulate that housing built in Ireland only has to be “visitable” by a person who uses a wheelchair, according to Tony Cunningham, national director of funded services for the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA).

This means houses and apartments are not built for wheelchair users to live in, and many are not accessible. “Consider a three-bed, semi-detached house with a small toilet under the stairs and the bedrooms upstairs,” Mr Cunningham told the Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters.

He said this leads to a lack of wheelchair liveable social and private housing in the community.


“This results in wheelchair users being homeless, living involuntarily with family and friends, [living] in nursing homes, not having control over their lives, as well as not having choices equal to others in society.”

Mr Cunningham said that the government must conduct a review of Part M (Section 3: Access and Use) of the Building Regulations Act of 2010, to ensure the minimum accessibility standard for new houses in Ireland is much higher.

Social housing is an area where issues often arise, according to Mr Cunningham, and there is little information on how many people require wheelchair liveable social housing.

People who are on the list may be waiting years, and some people may not realise they can apply for social housing in the first place, added Mr Cunningham.

Houses which are built to be completely wheelchair accessible “won’t go to waste”, as people who don’t use wheelchairs can live in them too, he said.

Joan Carthy, the IWA’s advocacy manager, gave the example of a woman who has two children with disabilities, one of whom uses a wheelchair.

“They are on a council [housing] list. They were brought to one property, and it wasn’t suitable at all.

“They were told there was another property for viewing, and if she said no to it, she’d be put to the bottom of the list, and that second property isn’t actually wheelchair accessible.”

Accessible toilets

Karen Smith, from Changing Places Ireland, said that the lack of accessible toilets is leading to the exclusion of people with disabilities from society.

“I would like to meet a partner, go to the cinema, go to a night club with my friends, meet up with my family members and their children in restaurants, plan a weekend away. I would like to do ordinary things in ordinary places,” she said.

Changing Places facilities are better than standard accessible toilets, according to Ms Smith.

They provide a larger floor area of 12sq m and include additional equipment such as an adult-sized changing bench, a hoist system and a centrally located toilet with space either side for transfers and assistants.

There are 17 such toilets in Ireland, but in comparison with England, we are faring poorly, according to Ms Smith. “England have over 1,600 Changing Places facilities and new legislation will make Changing Places toilets mandatory in new public buildings from 2021.”

However, Ms Smith said that she has been involved with a government working group to establish what types of buildings and locations should require Changing Places toilet facilities. The group’s recommendations are almost ready for public consultation, she said.