What Is Home Accessibility?

Home accessibility is a sibling to the concept of universal design, which advocates user-friendliness for every home, regardless of who’s living in it.

Universal design, as described by the famed Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University and universal design pioneer Ron Mace, is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” That includes young and old, tall and short, those with perfect vision and those who use glasses, those in wheelchairs or with a touch of arthritis or with elderly parents who have moved in.

An offshoot of universal design is “visitability,” the concept of making a home minimally accessible by incorporating at least one threshold-free entryway and an accessible bedroom and bathroom on the entryway level. Visitability gets its name from the theory that such homes would enable a wheelchair user to comfortably and safely live there for at least a short while.

But even universal design has its limits — not to mention that it is a growing vision, not yet an establishment. For people with mobility challenges, home accessibility equipment and modifications can offer additional assistance and support.

For the purposes of this story and when used in Mobility Management, home accessibility refers to the following:

Outside the Home: Ramps to negotiate raised entryways or to traverse entryway thresholds; porch or deck lifts; swimming pool lifts.

Inside the Home: Stairlifts, elevators, door-operating systems, patient lifts (portable and ceiling/wall mounted), grab bars, bathtub lifts, barrier-free bathtubs and showers, lift chairs, raised or lifting toilets/commodes, showers with built-in seats, shower/bath chairs that enable use of a standard shower/bathtub, rails that assist with standing or walking, environmental controls operated from a wheelchair driving system.

Home Modifications: Widened doorways and entryways, rooms designed to provide turning space for wheelchairs and scooters, height-adjustable kitchen appliances/work spaces/sinks, counters/cabinets/appliances with toe-kick spaces, accessible doorknobs and handles.

This article originally appeared in the May 2007 issue of Mobility Management.

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