Visitability is on my mind this week. My parents last visited me in my 1906 brownstone five years ago for a Christmas dinner; it is no longer possible for them to visit. My home is not visitable; only a crazy amount of cash would make it so. For a resident with limited mobility, my home would be a prison.
So what were builders in an affluent neighborhood thinking back in 1906? The answer is simple; life expectancy was under 50! A whole range health conditions typical in a much older population didn’t exist. That past reality clearly doesn’t match our present one where we can expect to live an additional 30 years. It’s time to build differently, not because we have to but because we want to.
Visitability is the first step in shifting our building paradigm. It suggests a few changes in home design such that our homes can be visited by a person with limitations in mobility, be they temporary, progressive or permanent. Simply stated, visitability means: get in and be able to use a bathroom. The experience for a guest is normalcy and belongingness. The other experiences of embarrassment, frustration, isolation, anxiety, dependency and depression, cease.
Wheelchair access is the guideline because when you satisfy it, you’ve also satisfied the needs of those with walkers, crutches, strollers or those who have difficulty with steps.
- Accessible path and zero-step entrance to an accessible floor that has a bathroom.
- Wide entrance door; 36 inch width is suggested, but no less than 32.
- Interior passages and doors should be no less than a full 32 inches when open; this includes the door to the bathroom.
WHAT VISITABILITY ISN’T
Visitability is often confused with handicap access; fears of high costs and ugly aesthetics trigger a response of resistance. Visitability is for single-family residences; American Disability Act regulates retail, restaurants, work places, etc. It’s for everyone, not a few special people. Finally, it’s just the features listed, no more. Although it would be great if the bathroom was fully accessible, the guideline just addresses door width.
As of 2005, an estimated 95% of single-family new housing was still being constructed with steps at all entries and/or narrow bathroom doors. The number of ordinances passed supporting visitability is still counted with fingers and toes. It’s time to shift our consciousness from procrastination to planning. 80% of you reading this will spend a part of your life in a wheelchair. Look around. For yourself, friends and family, visitability is a bold and outrageous expression of love.
For more on visitability, visit: Concrete Change
For a study by AARP: Increasing Home Access: Designing for Visitability