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Report of the Second International Expert Seminar
on Building Non-Handicapping Environments:
Renewal of Inner Cities

Prague, October 15-17, 1987

Download the Prague proceedings as a PDF file (420 KB)

Guidelines for an Environmental Design Suitable for Old and Disabled Citizens in the German Democratic Republic.

Herwig Loeper, Institute on Construction and Health, German Democratic Republic

Services for old citizens and efforts for the integration of persons with disabilities in social life are laid down in the constitution of the GDR and in the social and rehabilitation laws.

Since the beginning of the 1970’s, numerous newly built and reconstructed flats have been provided through the state housing program, and more than 80,000 flats for old persons and approximately 3,000 flats for wheelchair users have been constructed. 30,000 places in apartment buildings as well as 60,000 places in old people’s homes have been provided according to state planning and projecting guidelines.

In 1985 there were in the GDR per 1,000 inhabitants altogether:

4.7 flats specially designed for elderly and disabled people
0.2 integrated flats for wheelchair users
1.8 places in specially designed apartment buildings for the elderly and handicapped
0.12 places in sheltered homes for disabled adults
2.7 places in homes for elderly people
5.4 places in nursing homes and clinics
0.04 places in geriatric day nursing homes
The numbers above refer to a population of 16.7 million of which 16.6% are old age pensioners.

In addition, a variety of measures have been taken to contribute to an environment suitable for old and disabled people, especially in new residential areas, since the beginning of the 1980’s.

Life for old citizens and persons with disabilities today is often dominated by the alternative of either having a household of one’s own and assistance through the family or living in an institution. Loss of independence and the move to an institution are often due to inadequacy of sanitary and heating equipment in flats of old buildings as well as lack of suitable public transportation and high demands on one’s mobility in new suburbs.

With the shift of construction away from extensive residential suburbs towards inner city housing and from new construction to reconstruction and modernization of old buildings, the advantages of modern housing comfort can be combined with the developed infrastructure of inner cities. In this way favorable conditions for an independent life and social integration of old and disabled citizens can be accomplished.

Residential care facilities and their growing costs can be contained only in places where the most important elements of environmental design for old and disabled citizens are successfully realized. These elements include:

sheltered employment and leisure facilities
medical, educational, occupational and social rehabilitation facilities
day-centers and visiting nurses programs
community-based services
emergency call facilities
accessible streets, public transportation and public buildings
A varied local and regional supply of housing and services can only be achieved by a variety of smaller units which may not always result in the most effective use of existing resources. New financing and organization models are therefore necessary. Construction activity and services should not primarily be oriented on bed capacities and a high degree of specialization but must be aimed at local conditions as well as multi-functionality and social integration. The traditional separation of services for old persons and for people with disabilities must be overcome and there should be close links with other services, the health system and public institutions.

While in recent years the bulk of new flats and related services have been built in outlying areas of larger cities in the GDR, rural areas and smaller towns are only seldom equipped with the necessary care capacities and facilities. International experience shows that the efficiency of large institutions is limited, especially in small towns and villages because of deficiencies in the infrastructure which can hardly be compensated in a socially and economically effective way. For this reason, the aim must be to adapt more flats and public buildings to the specific needs of old and disabled persons, and to increase the supply and flexibility of public services. Special centers in cities could then concentrate on the remaining highly specialized care services.

For these reasons, it seems advantageous to establish a network of small service units when building new dwelling units or renewing existing residential quarters and buildings. These units should be closely linked with the large centers and should themselves take over coordinating and advisory functions. At the same time, they should offer basic services such as meals and day centers. Furthermore, they can serve old, disabled and non-disabled people as centers for communication, self-help and leisure.

Since only few households of old and disabled people are equipped with telephones, the need for services can be brought to the attention of these units either by the clients themselves, in case they are ambulatory, or their family and neighbors. The small care units can organize and deliver the following services with the help of contractors: factory cafeterias and restaurants could deliver meals, craftsmen could take domestic orders, outpatient clinics supply medical care, and social and voluntary organizations and groups can encourage social and cultural activities. In this way, more services could be provided for the needs of old and disabled citizens without large additional investments.

In the GDR, community-based services are to a great extent carried out by volunteers from the "People’s Solidarity" organization. Such services can be delivered more efficiently, if businesses, factories and other social groups and organizations are involved. For the future, it is feasible as well as desirable that the work of volunteers, factories, businesses and other institutions for the "People’s Solidarity" get financial support from the state, similar to Norway. In this country construction of adapted flats for old and disabled people are subsidized by the state. Promotion schemes of this kind do not only contribute to the improvement of the living conditions and the integration of old and disabled people, but they are also an investment in social security and social welfare of all citizens.

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