Visitability: A Way of Thinking About Aging and Design

As the population ages and more people are living with physical disabilities, housing and community development must be re-examined. Inaccessible homes impede the daily lives of people who are mobility impaired due to illness, accident or age. Visitors to inaccessible homes face the danger of falling on the entry steps, the worry of not fitting into a bathroom and the embarrassment of being carried up the stairs. An affordable, sustainable and inclusive design approach for integrating basic accessibility features into all newly built homes is a movement known as Visitability.

In 1988, The Fair Housing Amendments Act created accessible units in all new multi-family housing apartments and condos with four or more units. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act greatly increased accessibility to all government and public buildings. But detached single-family houses and town homes, where the majority of the population lives, are the last part of the built environment that is not covered by federal law. No accessibility codes exist. To date, private houses and town homes continue to be built with the same basic accessibility barriers: steps at all entrances and narrow doors to bathrooms.

In an effort to pass legislation for accessibility in new single-home construction, Eleanor Smith, the founder of Concrete Change, started the Visitability Movement in the US. The movement asks that three basic accessibility needs be met:

* One zero-step entrance on an accessible route from a driveway or public sidewalk.

* Doorways with a 32 "minimum clear passage space.

* A half bathroom on the main floor to accommodate a wheelchair.

If these three requirements are met in the construction of every new home, future adaptations for specialized needs can occur as needed. Visitability features make it easier for the mobility impaired to visit friends and family and to remain active in …

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