The Enabling Built Environments Program (EBEP) is an initiative of the Built Environment school at UNSW. EBEP’s research is concerned with how the built environment, from home to town centre design level, impacts human function, quality of life and health/care costs for older people, young people with disability, and carers. Funded projects range from the macro level e.g. the performance of town centres and housing supply, to the micro level e.g. temperature regulation valves, smoke detectors. EBEP currently comprises three research streams:

1. Livable Neighbourhoods

2. Livable Housing

3. DIY Home Modifications

The Special Research Projects complement and inform the work undertaken by HMinfo. The broad scope of EBEP research projects ensures that HMinfo’s home modification research is suitably placed within the scope of current research and practice in the built environment for older people and people with disability.

The EBEP Special Research Projects’ three streams of research are funded by a range of government and non-government organisations. In 2017-2018, these included: the NSW Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS); the Australian Research Council (ARC); the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB); and industry partners Caroma and the Association of Consultants in Access Australia (ACAA).

With the global advent of population ageing and the ongoing transition of young people with disability to living in the community, understanding the complex transactions between the built environment and humans has become an increasingly critical factor in creating and maintaining sustainable informal and self-care systems for all nations.

EBEP benefits from its contract and casual research staff having a diverse skill set that includes: Industrial Design, Occupational Therapy, Social Sciences, Social Policy, Planning and Architecture.

  • EBEP Objectives are:

    • to build information and knowledge capacity within the residential and public construction sectors in order to improve design standards and to provide evidence for the effectiveness of special features to better the living environments of aged and/or people with disabilities, and their carers.

    • integrate diverse knowledge and cross-disciplinary research.

    • develop a leading edge enabling environments research cluster that will be accessible to the full range of industry and consumer target groups.

    • facilitate home and community care outcomes, focusing on residential and town centre design strategies.

    • promote innovative residential models for older people and people with disabilities within the building and development industry.

    • develop Factsheets detailing best practice principles for assessment and the setting of priorities for planning, assessment and intervention services.

    • promote the benefits and products of more enabling design to the broader community through mainstream media.

    • share information at International, National, State and Regional industry forums and liaise with peak regional providers and consumers.

    • ensure that there are effective links between built environment service providers and their end users.

  • Enabling Built Environment Program

    Level 4, Red Centre (West Wing)

    School of Built Environment

    UNSW Sydney


    Tel:  +61 2 9385 4529 / 1800 305 486

  • The research conducted by the Enabling Built Environment Program

    EBEP Special Research Projects undertaken alongside the Home Modification Information Clearinghouse (HMinfo) during 2017-2018, spanned the three research streams. An overview of the projects in each research stream are provided below.



    Response as part of Public Comments on ABCB NCC 2019 Projects Apr 2018.

    EBEP prepared comprehensive and evidence-based responses to the Australian Building Codes Board on NCC 2019 Research Projects and Proposed Revisions on the following;

    1. Accessible adult change facilities in public buildings

    We agreed with the need but showed that incontinence was not just confined to wheelchair users but was also directly associated with ageing. This needed to be reflected in the proposed solution.

    2. Fire Safety in Class 2 and Class 3 residential buildings

    The ABCB Report strongly recommended sprinklers and provided two alternative systems. We supported the cost-effective option because of its superior performance, reduction of life risk and simplicity. We presented an argument for its consideration for homes together with an option to reduce the ineffective additional cost associated with water supply authority requirements.

    3. Fire Safety Verification Method

    We commented mainly on the direct link between the proposed method and occupant wayfinding capability. No integration was proposed between egress and access. Our submission included a direct comparison between the two and included a table showing the comparison for each aspect of egress and access for each performance clause. We suggested a common approach for performance-based egress and access design.

    4. Access and Ramp Verification Methods (VM)

    • Ramps – the initial project brief did not reflect our overall Access Mobility Model so that we proposed an amendment to the VM that did. The amendment was accepted by ABCB.
    • Access / Wayfinding Handbook – we commented on our concerns with the development of the Handbook, the associated Wayfinding/Access Model and additional research required to provide basic evidential support.


    Verification Method for Stairs (DV4 – NCC)

    Users need to feel confident in going up and down stairs. The outcome of performance-based design of stairs reflected in the Stage 1 ABCB Project confirmed this and highlighted the basic components of a stair verification method. Stage 2 has now been completed and submitted with a verification process being proposed comprising two “steps”. The first step is to test the stair design for dynamic stability centered on foot placement. If the hypothetical user or “phantom” fails the first step then the design is altered with the addition of a handrail to intercept the “fall”. If step two is successful, then the design can be fully documented. Stair ascent is also extremely important and the stairs tested via a recently developed fatigue model. Foot clearance is also extremely important. The ascent assessment defines the placement of landings or rest points and also the maximum number of steps in each flight.


    Verification Method for Traversability of Ramps (DV3 – NCC)

    Stage 2 of the Ramp Performance Design Project was submitted on the 12th December 2017. This report outlines the proposed VM Method for Ramps. The Quantification of the performance requirements of DP2 (NCC Volume 1) and P2.5.1 (NCC Volume 2) are required to include steeper ramps (up to 1:6) as the Brief instructed that the fundamental principle of these performance requirements is that ramps should provide a tolerable increase in individual risk (from a health and safety perspective). The submission included a detailed verification model where the gradient was limited to a maximum of 1:8 based on isokinetic strength and the fear of falling. Other additional minimal requirements relating to cross-fall, slip resistance and surface “evenness” were added and the metrics simplified via liaison between ABCB and EBEP. The VM is to be included in NCC 2019.


    Access / Wayfinding Verification Handbook (DV2 – NCC) – STAGE 1

    The Brief for this project was issued in the form of a template for a proposed handbook outlining a comprehensive framework, model and process for an Access Verification Method to be inserted into NCC 2019 as DV2. EBEP assembled an expert research team drawn from the EBEP Wayfinding research programme. This team developed a comprehensive VM Access/ Wayfinding Model comprising the following:

    Stage 1 was sent out for public comment so that EBEP had the opportunity to comment on the ABCB presentation. Other public comments will be available as a basis for Stage 2;

    Stage 2 is about to be awarded and EBEP will most likely be able to continue their work. The benefit of Stage 2 is described in a separate section of this annual report.



    Washbasin Project

    UNSW has financed a new world class Livability Lab in the basement of the Built Environment School’s home building. This new and enhanced facility established in early 2018, replaced the much smaller and older existing lab. This larger facility has enabled us to continue to explore and to better understand, movement in three-dimensional space and the forces related to movement, such as balance and stability for people with disabilities. The new space is fully wheelchair accessible, located near accessible toilets, and has separate changeroom and storage spaces.

    A new project on washbasin clearances funded by Caroma (GWA International – Bathrooms and Kitchen) was commissioned in early 2018, with testing to commence in the second half of 2018. GWA International is Australia’s leading bathroom manufacturer. The aim of the project is to evaluate the toe and knee clearance required by wheelchair users to access a public washbasin. An adjustable washbasin rig had been designed and built for use in the project by the GWA engineers. Ethics approval had been submitted for project commencement. The next stage of the project is to pilot test the washbasin rig in the new space in preparation for participant recruitment and data collection.


    Livable Bathrooms for Older People

    The Livable Bathrooms for Older People project commenced in 2012, with the aim of future-proofing bathrooms for older people, enabling them to live comfortably at home for as long as possible. Following a nationwide survey and in-depth interviews, we explored the effect of different toilet seat heights and its interaction with the use of a grab rail. We employed the principles of user-centred design and combined the users’ feedback with our lab testing results to provide descriptive data for designers to make reference.

    The Livable Bathrooms for Older People project is supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Programme, GWA Group Limited and UNSW Research Grants. This project is now completed, with a potential of an extension to future project. The results will contribute to the knowledge to aid designers and builders to better understand geriatric users, alongside the basic guidelines of the Australian Standards.

  • EBEP is interested in collaborating with industry, academics and both enrolled or prospective students who have an interest in how the built environment, from home to town centre design level, impacts human function, quality of life and health/care costs for the elderly and people with disabilities and carers. Please Contact Us if you would like to discuss opportunities with us.

  • For training please visit the following site: