Accessibility in the Home – An Introduction to Visitability

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Universal Design and Visitability are becoming aligned with sustainable design and green building practices.

Home design must consider the relationship between accessibility and sustainable design.

Design and construction decisions impact accessibility in a home.

Just as we’ve begun to view the structural, electrical, plumbing, mechanical, ventilation and rainscreen systems acting together to form our homes, a home and its site should be designed as an integrated whole rather than as a collection of isolated systems for it to meet varrying accessibility requirements and be sustainable. Accessible features should blend seamlessly with the home and their consideration should become a seamless part of design. All stakeholders on the project should work together from the start to coordinate and optimize the design of the site and the home to be certain it will facilitate accessability.

A sustainable home is sensitive to the environment and to its users. A modern home should facilitate a diverse lifestyle while affording use by the greatest number of people regardless of their age or physical abilities. Designing and building homes for equitable use by the greatest number of people can be achieved by incorporating Universal Design and Visitability concepts.

The concept of Visitability seems especially attractive as we consider the modern home.

Visitability is similar to Universal Design in general intention but it is more focused in scope, more specific in parameters, and more explicitly grounded in a social reform of the home building industry.

Where Universal Design focuses on performance-based design concepts which seek to create enabling environments for as many types of people as possible who own or reside in a home, Visitability concepts do not limit the design focus to the owners of a home, rather, just as the name implies, it expands the design considerations to those who might visit a home while considering the goal that the residents’ remaining in the home will be possible without requiring significant modifications to the home if mobility impairments occur.

Visitability is an international movement to change home construction practices globally so that virtually all new homes offer three specific accessibility features whether or not designated for residents who currently have mobility impairments:

  1. At least one zero-step entrance on an accessible route leading from a driveway or sidewalk.
  2. All interior doors providing at least 32 inches of unobstructed passage space.
  3. At least a half bathroom on the main floor.

If a goal is residents remaining in the home if mobility impairment occurs after home construction, two additional basics are necessary to account for in a homes design and planning phase:

  1. A full bathroom on the main floor.
  2. A bedroom or space that could be converted to a bedroom on the main floor.

Besides accomodating the needs of people in their personal residences, visitability makes it easier to visit friends’ and extended family members’ homes rather than having to turn down invitations, or not be invited at all.

Visitability features also provide a basic shell of access to permit formerly non-disabled people to remain in their homes if they develop a disability, rather than forcing them to do expensive renovations, relocate to a different house, live in an inaccessible home which endangers their health and safety, or move from the community into a managed care home or nursing home.

An accessible home environment provides the opportunity for all people to fully participate in and contribute to their families, communities, and society. Ease of access at home offers individuals the occasion to improve the quality of life and standard of living for themselves, their families, and other people who visit their home.

Adopting Visitability concepts, Universal Design principles and Aging In Place strategies is a responsible practice that should be considered by anyone planing to build or remodel a home.

R T Lincoln, AMB, CGP, CGR, CAPS

Click here for a common sense checklist.

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