Special needs are nowhere more pressing than in bathrooms, and the Bathroom Manufacturers Association (BMA) is at last addressing them formally. It recently held a presentation and exhibition in London on the subject and says it will be following these up with consultations and a further event early in 2005.
A major barrier to providing specialneeds products comes from the volume-to -price ratio. Retailers and merchants perceive prices to be high, volume sales low, and are loath to devote showroom space to them.
Manufacturers anticipate short production runs to meet low demand and are, therefore, reluctant to develop them.
Nevertheless, the BMA says that 20 of its 38 members collectively offer 1,100 products for this sector, and its overriding answer to the problems is to employ inclusive design.
This means designing products that can meet special, as well as general, needs, and preferably for all age groups, so that volumes can rise, prices fall and sales justify appropriate production runs and showroom space.
Another part of the answer, says the association, is to raise awareness of special needs across a wide spectrum of interested people. These include not only specifiers and the people affected but also the media, legislators, carers, various organisations, researchers, occupational therapists, distributors and installers.
Special needs are on the increase, says the BMA, in tandem with the aging of the population, and in addition no one can be sure that they will not suffer an accident or serious illness that will temporarily introduce special needs. Some products are comparatively better known, for example Document M packs are available for WC facilities in buildings used by the public, but what about homes?
The association, which claims that its members account for some 87 per cent of sales in the bathrooms market overall, says there are now 12 million people in the UK over the age of 60, and that by 2030 this figure could reach 19 million, or one-third of the population. It believes that 8.7 million people are not fully able and that only 5 per cent of these are in wheelchairs, while 6.2 million people of working age (18 per cent or one in five) are not fully able.
Some moves by the BMA have already been initiated. One is the issuing of fact sheets on special needs and independent living, which can be downloaded from the website at www. bathroom-association. org.
Another is the addition to the website of a microsite with four main functions covering commercial applications, domestic ones, a product selector and a brochurerequest facility.