‘Visitability’ helps the disabled stay in homes
People may be living longer than ever before, but often not without physical limitations and disabilities. In response to the growing senior population, some communities are using new building standards to allow people of all abilities to remain in their homes longer.
Many Americans live in single-family homes that do not meet “visitability” standards, says Jordana Maisel, a research associate with the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA) Center at the University of Buffalo. Those homes have stepped entryways and hallways, and interior doors that are too narrow to easily accommodate wheelchairs and walkers, she says. Some local governments have created mandatory programs that require home-builders to integrate core accessibility features in their designs. “[Visitability legislation] increases the opportunity for community participation and for people of all abilities to become active members of society,” Maisel says.
Since Pima County, Ariz., passed its Inclusive Home Design ordinance in 2002, 35,000 new homes have been built that meet visitability standards, says Pima County’s Building Official, Yves Khawam. “Approximately 70 percent of people experience a temporary, if not permanent, disability at some point in their life, and so it’s proactive to have housing to accommodate these events,” he says.
However, the new rules were not popular with all builders, says Roger Yohem, Vice President of the Tucson-based Southern Arizona Home Builders Association (SAHBA), whose organization unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance shortly after its passage. Because SAHBA always offered visitability features as an option, Yohem says association members had some trouble with the idea of mandating a one-size-fits-all regulation. “The bottom line is that costs will be absorbed by the consumer,” Yohem says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.