Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Visitability and Universal Design Principles

Concrete Change

One of the most effective champions of 'visitability' I know of is Eleanor Smith, along with her friends at Concrete Change. Some of us in Idaho looked into replicating their Easy Living Home project, which involved marketing and outreach to encourage architects, builders and developers to make new single-family homes 'visitable.' Alternate terms are 'no-step' or 'zero-step' entry homes that allow easy access for anyone using a wheelchair or moving furniture, appliances, bikes or baby strollers in and out of the house.

This designation differs from more rigorous design and construction standards for multifamily housing under the Fair Housing Act, or ADA standards for public and common areas. A visitable residence means being able to recover at home after an accident or illness, avoid institutional care for any disability, and to age-in-place. It requires a no-step entry on the main floor, an accessible route with 32" clear passage space through hallways and doors, and a bathroom with adequate floor space for maneuvering a wheelchair.

What does this have to do with Ramp Up Idaho?

While Ramp Up Idaho focuses primarily on retail and commercial space, we see this as part of a larger effort to make communities more welcoming and usable by everyone: residents an visitors alike. As our card says: Accessible communities and businesses are essential to Idaho’s economy.

Why build visitable single-family homes?

Simple. Because it saves money and makes life better for everyone in the community.
  • For Medicare-eligible individuals, home-based care represents estimated annual cost savings of $32,000 over institutional care. For lawmakers and taxpayers fretting over Medicare costs, this is a no brainer.
  • When we can live at home surrounded by family and friends, health outcomes are dramatically better for everyone involved.
  • Some local governments see the Baby Boomer writing on the wall: populations in many places (like Idaho) are aging: cities and counties can take steps to attract retirees and their incomes, lower costs for taxpayers, and make their communities more attractive places to live. See one approach to this in the Pima County Building Ordinance. The authors of a recent 2012 study on aging in Idaho sum it up nicley:
Idaho is about to get older quickly. It would be wise for Idaho’s citizens, employers, and policymakers to start planning for it now.
To see what others have to say about universal design in single-family housing, see the following:
What builders and communities should consider is that 'planning ahead' is much cheaper and better than what I call 'planning behind.' Concrete Change has lots of research on the low cost of visitability; learn more here.

For Eleanor's last 'Train the Trainers' presentation before her retirement, click here.

It's pioneers like Concrete Change that have created opportunities and access for everyone and that inspire projects like Ramp Up Idaho.

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