If you are about to build a new home, chances are you’re focused on how you want everything to look, what features you need, and any safety concerns that may come up if you have children or pets. One thing that you may not have thought about is whether or not you should make your home accessible to people with disabilities.
If no one in your family has mobility issues, you’ve probably never thought about adapting your home so that it is disability-friendly. But what if you or a loved one has an accident, or your aging parents are no longer able to get around without a wheelchair? Will your home be as inviting as it once was?
“Visitability” is the name of a movement that has been gaining ground in the U.S. since 1986, when Eleanor Smith started an organization devoted to making all newly built homes accessible to those with disabilities. The concept is very simple; it calls for all new houses to have at least one entrance that doesn’t require a stairway, interior doors that are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs (approximately 32 inches in width), and a bathroom on the main floor that has enough room for a wheelchair or other mobility device.
While you may not be disabled yourself, you might have family or friends who have difficulty climbing stairs, or rely on the use of a wheelchair. Public buildings are required to have certain features in order to make them accessible to all users, but on a national level there are currently no regulations that require private homes to be accessible as well. The goal of the visitability movement is to reduce isolation for those whose mobility is restricted.
Imagine being in a wheelchair, perhaps even temporarily, and you are invited to a party at a friend’s house. Getting from the curb and through the front door is your first hurdle. If there are stairs to climb, you have to rely on others to lift you and your wheelchair into the house. If no one is around to help, you can’t get in.
Once inside, you want to head from the living room to the kitchen to say hello to friends. Unless the doorways are at least 32 inches wide, you will likely not fit through the opening, and are stuck where you are.
Going to the bathroom presents another challenge for you. If there is no washroom on the main floor, you will have to recruit others to carry you there. Secondly, the door needs to be wide enough for you to get through. Thirdly, the bathroom itself must be wide enough for you to maneuver yourself to the toilet, and to close the door behind you.
As you can imagine, visiting an inaccessible home can be very stressful and humiliating. Many people with mobility issues miss out on gatherings with loved ones because the homes they’re going to cannot satisfy their most basic needs: the ability to get in and out of the house, and access to a usable washroom.
Not all people who need these features are permanently disabled. People have car accidents every day and break legs or hips, or require a wheelchair after surgery. Aging can also create issues for a person who used to be quite active. Balance can be thrown off easily, and older bodies are often stiff and achy, which makes it difficult to climb stairs.
Even if you aren’t disabled right now, there is always the possibility. You may need your home to be more accommodating to your own needs, or to those of friends and family. Fortunately, the costs involved with building a Visitable house are quite low. If you make the specifications before construction, these adjustments can be made for a very low amount of money. This is a wise investment, as renovating your home to include ramps or stair elevators can be very costly once the home has been fully constructed.
It is also a wise real estate investment, as the Baby Boomer generation is entering their senior years. There is a huge market out there for older adults, so by having these simple and affordable modifications already in place, buyers will look to purchase your home before the competition.