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Specialist Disability Accommodation or SDA is a specialised type of housing that is designed to support those with extreme functional impairment or high support needs.

To be an SDA dwelling it needs to be enrolled with the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA)  by meeting one of four SDA design categories.  This categorisation ensures Builders and SDA Providers understand how to construct the dwellings to meet the specific needs for people with a disability while improving provider confidence and compliance with strict SDA standards [1].

In this article we discuss the four design categories of SDA, the role of SDA assessors accreditation process, and tips to ensure your investment meets the strict SDA guidelines.

The Four Categories of SDA Design

As of July 1st, 2021 all dwelling enrolment applications for Specialist Disability Accommodation SDA are required to include a certificate from an accredited SDA Assessor nominating the design category the dwelling satisfies based on the NDIS Specialist Disability Accommodation SDA Design Standard.


The Design Standard document outlines the minimum design requirements of newly built Specialist Disability Accommodation under the National Disability Insurance Scheme NDIS. There are four different design categories:

  1. Improved Liveability (IL)
  2. Robust
  3. Fully Accessible (FA)
  4. High Physical Support (HPS)

One way to maximise your investment opportunity is to certify your dwelling at the highest design level – High Physical Support, so it caters for those NDIS participants who may require Improved Liveability and Fully Accessible too, noting that HPS design increases the cost. Whatever category is chosen it must ensure that the minimum standards are met across all enrolled design categories [1].

Improved Liveability

Dwellings that fall under the Improved Liveability design category are built with inclusions to boost physical access. People living with intellectual, sensory or cognitive impairments may benefit from this design category.

For ease of navigation, these homes may feature elements such as luminance contrasts and tactile materials on walls and door frames in internal and external areas. Dwellings may also feature:

  • Task lighting
  • Limited corridors
  • None or very few stairs


Robust housing needs a reasonable level of structural provisions to reduce the requirements for reactive maintenance. Dwellings under this design category must be strong and durable to ensure safety for residents and others. People who need assistance managing challenging intellectual or complex behaviours may benefit from this SDA design category.

Some features of robust housing may include:

  • High impact wall lining
  • Laminated glass
  • Secure windows and internal doors, external doors and door handles
  • Soundproofing
  • Retreat areas to provide sanctuary for other residents and staff

Fully Accessible

Dwellings that fall under the fully accessible design category must provide high levels of assisted physical access for those with significant functional impairment. People who use a manual or powered wheelchair may benefit from homes that fall under the fully accessible SDA design category.

Fully accessible housing may feature:

  • Wheelchair passages through the entire dwelling
  • No stairs or level changes between door thresholds
  • Access to bench tops or workspaces from a seated or standing position
  • Power supply to doors and windows for the option to install assistive technology

High Physical Support

High physical support housing incorporates the features of fully accessible housing with additional specialised design features to further support a high level of physical access.

High physical support specialist disability accommodation may include:

  • Emergency power solutions to cater for a minimum 2 hour power outage
  • Provisions for ceiling hoists
  • Communication technology and assistive technology ready
  • 950mm clear opening width doors
  • Bench tops and key appliances accessible from seated or standing position

SDA Assessors and Their Role & Accreditations

An Accredited SDA Assessor is a third party who is authorised to issue a certificate of SDA design category compliance. The SDA Assessor can be engaged at both the design stage (provisional certification) as well as mandatory involvement in the final as-built stage of development to confirm that the dwelling has satisfied all of the requirements of the SDA Design Standard [1].

Once certified as compliant, the provider can then proceed to enrol the dwelling with the National Disability Insurance Agency.

SDA Assessors must satisfy certain prerequisites in order to be accredited and can be:

  • Architects
  • Access Consultants
  • Occupational Therapists, or
  • Building Surveyors

Recommendations to Ensure Your Investment Meets the Guidelines

The most assured way to ensure  your investment meets the guidelines is to get in contact with an Accredited SDA Assessor for a provisional design certification. You can find a list of Accredited Assessors from the Liveable Housing Australia website. Provisional certification will give assurance to builders and developers that the dwelling will be approved as a compliant SDA dwelling under the NDIA, providing that the construction meets the original certified design.

Familiarise yourself with the NDIS (Specialist Disability Accommodation) Rules. This document outlines dwelling enrolment requirements including design categories, building types and additional features. As stated in the SDA rules, all SDA providers must be registered with the NDIS and all dwellings enrolled with the NDIA.

For further clarity, the SDA Operational Guidelines are available to provide a clear, concise set of directions aimed to streamline the processes for providers and participants.

To ensure a smooth certification process, you must:

  1. Build to the minimum Design Standards as detailed in the SDA Design Standard document
  2. Submit all required information including accredited certifications
  3. Ensure the provider responds to regulating authorities within a reasonable timeframe
  4. Notify the NDIA of any changes to the dwelling within 5 business days, including changes to the proposed design category
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Investing in Specialist Disability Accommodation is gaining popularity. Building SDA homes needs to be done with the NDIS participant at the forefront, and thus must strictly adhere to SDA rules.

Each dwelling must comply with the minimum Design Standards for the SDA design category in which it is to be enrolled.

A two step certification process, including both provisional and final as-built certification, with an accredited SDA Assessor is the most assured way to meet stringent SDA guidelines.

Become informed of the SDA Rules and Operational Guidelines, and enlist the services of a knowledgeable SDA provider prior to investing.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended as legal, financial or investment advice and should not be construed or relied on as such. Before making any commitment of a legal or financial nature you should seek advice from a qualified and registered Australian legal practitioner or financial or investment advisor.  


[1] NDIS, 2023. Specialist Disability Accommodation

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