Breaking barriers: Developers now wooing senior citizens, special-needs residents

  • Lavina Mulchandani, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Aug 12, 2016 16:56 IST

For wheelchair-ridden Manoj Degamwar, 69, a retired banker and Khar resident, basic tasks such as turning off the lights and going to the bathroom are rendered difficult. Degamwar fractured his feet in an accident two years ago.

“The doorway to the bathroom is very narrow, and the wheelchair can’t slide in there,” he says. “Also, the switchboards are placed at a height from the ground making it difficult for me to reach them.”

To make life easier for senior citizens and the differently abled, city developers are tweaking their facilities, catering to a market that has, until now, largely been ignored. From braille-enabled elevators and slip-resistant bars to disabled-friendly toilets, an increasing number of developers is aiming to make projects more accessible.

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“There is growing awareness about the need for such facilities among developers, and accessible amenities are growing more common in newer projects,” says Shubika Bilkha, business head, The Real Estate Management Institute, a Mahalaxmi-based real-estate education provider. “However, it is still a nascent segment for developers.”

A report by the UN Population Fund and HelpAge India in 2011 estimated that by 2026, there will be approximately 170 million senior citizens living in India. “Of these, about 30 million senior citizens currently live alone,” says Bilkha. “Moreover, 2% of India’s population suffers from one or other form of disability. This makes it imperative for developers to make projects better equipped and more accessible.”

The concept of offering accessible facilities is popular in the West, says Anurag Jhanwar, business head - consulting and data insights at real-estate consultancy ‎PropTiger. “Although we have a large population in both sections, it is still an evolving market in India.”

“Such projects will attract buyers too — affecting 8% to 9% of the total population, the target audience will also bring their families and larger support groups along,” says Piyush Gandhi, national director of project and development services at realty consultancy JLL India.

Access points

Luxury complex Vivarea in Mahalaxmi comes equipped with ramps, disabled-friendly toilets and elevators with audio systems and braille stickers. “We also make sure that the meeting rooms and recreation areas are accessible,” says Kishore Bhatija, managing director - real estate development at K Raheja Corp.

At Mahindra Lifespace’s upcoming residential project Vivante in Andheri, and existing Splendour in Bhandup and Eminente in Goregaon, there are dedicated parking areas for the disabled. “We have ramps leading to lobbies and club houses across the project,” says Jaimin Desai, head of design at the projects. “The toilets have wider doors to accommodate wheelchairs and matte-finish floor tiles to prevent slipping.”

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At Chandivli’s Nahar Amrit Shakti by Nahar Developers, there are ramps for wheelchair bound along with non-slippery grab bars for senior citizens. “All the floor areas are well-illuminated with night lamps, and there is an area for senior citizens to socialise in,” says Manju Yagnik, vice-chairperson, Nahar Group. The project includes a medical centre with a full-time nurse to come to residents’ aid when needed.

Casa Rare, an upcoming residential project by Geopreneur Group in Borivli, offers support rods and slopes for wheelchairs. “Integrating these facilities in the project does not need much additional investment,” says Ajay Agarwal, partner at Geopreneur design studio, the architectural segment of the group. “On an average, there are two senior members in a family of five, which makes up a modern nuclear family. So, almost 10% of our residents will utilise these facilities.”

What the law says

The Model Building Bye Laws (MBBL) 2016 (Chapter 8), IS Code 4963, CPWD guidelines for ‘barrier-free’ environment give detailed design and planning guidelines to accommodate differently-abled and the elderly.

“Building bye-laws are legal tools used to regulate architectural design and orderly construction of buildings, and are mandatory in nature,” says Gandhi from JLL India. “The recently drafted model building bye-Laws 2016 have a dedicated chapter on design provisions for any building in public use, with respect to the differently-abled and the elderly.” Some of these provisions include special toilets, graphic and braille signage and hand-rails.

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Anil Bhaskaran, an architect and urban planner from Bangalore, says, “To cater to the needs of the disabled, projects should have good air circulation, few barriers in the interior design, and proximity to hospitals.”

Amenities required in a senior citizen home are quite different from conventional residential developments, and developers are increasingly focusing on these needs. “They need ramps at grade level separations, tracks for the visually challenged, elevators with braille call buttons and grab bars in washrooms,” says Harleen Oberoi, managing director of project management at Cushman & Wakefield India. “The government is also aggressively promoting the importance of these amenities through various campaigns.”

In a nutshell: Some of the amenities being offered

Braille-enabled call buttons in lifts

ARD (Automatic Rescue Device) in elevators

Ramps and/or steps wherever there are level differences, in the building or in common areas around

Proper grab bars and railings at places

Matte-finish, non-slip tiles in bathrooms

Strict compliance with Building laws (UBC compliant), with appropriate specifications for staircases and width of risers

Courtesy: Harleen Oberoi, managing director of project management at Cushman & Wakefield India

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