Introduction to visitability

Visitability. Sounds like a complicated mouthful, doesn’t it? It’s actually pretty simple: visitability consists of just three features that allow people with physical mobility disabilities to simply visit the home. Your home needs just three features in order to achieve visitability:

  • At least one zero-step entry into the home
  • At least one usable half-bath on the first floor
  • Wide doorways and pathways throughout the home (at least 32” of clear space)

These three features reap numerous benefits. Visitability features allow aging loved ones and friends with disabilities to visit for the holidays and not worry about getting in or using the bathroom. People who want to stay in their homes as they grow older will have fewer accessibility modifications to make if the home is already visitable. The best part? Visitability can make a home more usable for everyone at every stage of life.

  • A zero-step entry is much more convenient when using rolling suitcases, stroller, dollies, or anything on wheels.
  • Carrying large boxes and groceries through the home is much more manageable with wide doorways and hallways, not mention moving furniture.
  • Homes with usable bathrooms on the first floor have higher resale value…and it’s much easier than sending guest upstairs during a dinner party!

Most people don’t think about accessibility features until they have to. And unless they’re an expert in accessibility, they find modifying for accessibility to be very complicated and overwhelming. But homes already visitable are easier to modify should full accessibility become necessary.

Visitability may sound new and revolutionary, but the concept has been around since 1986. Eleanor Smith drove through a newly developed neighborhood and noticed that every house had steps leading to the front door. She realized that all of those new houses in the new neighborhood could have been built to be accessible.

Eleanor founded Concrete Change to advocate for greater accessibility in housing. She focused on the three construction practices that created the greatest barriers to people with disabilities (can you guess what they are?!). Over time, this philosophy became known as visitability. Now, many cities have passed, and others will develop, visitability ordinances mandating for the features to be included in new home construction.

Visitability features can most easily be incorporated into new construction, but they can also be renovated into existing housing. Over the next few weeks we’ll dive into the specifics of visitability, as well as best practices for homeowners who want to make an existing structure visitable.

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