Otago Polytechnic

Housing modifications for those living with disability need to be prompt and sustainable in the long-term.

New Zealanders are living longer and are increasingly choosing to remain at home, in their own house and community. For some this is more difficult due to a disability and impaired mobility. Housing modifications can help those with disabilities to live independently and safely at home, but increasing demand has not been matched with an increase in Ministry of Health resources so waiting times are getting longer.

Occupational therapist Tania Smellie and Associate Professor Linda Robertson studied the effect of housing modifications for one couple who lived in a one-bedroom council flat in a small town. The couple were interviewed twice, 18 months apart, before and after modifications to their house to accommodate a wheelchair.

Before the modifications, the temporary solutions they were working with were unsustainable, unpleasant and undignified. They were much more isolated, and struggled with the uncertainty of long delays in having modifications carried out. The modifications eventually brought improvements, but the couple would also have benefited from greater community rehabilitation support and help with transport. They were left wondering if perhaps they should have moved instead.

July 2020