Home should be a warm and welcoming place to everyone you choose to invite in. Design blogs usually focus on the visual aspects of this, and the ways in which colour, patterns, and decor choice can be used to create an inviting space. But for many people, the actual architecture of the home is even more important.
For those who require use of a wheelchair, walker, or scooter to get around, a welcoming home starts with accessible design. This is something that too often gets overlooked in the world of home design, which tends to hyper-focus on aesthetic details. But it doesn’t matter how beautiful a space is if it’s literally inaccessible to somebody.
Most public places are now constructed with accessibility in mind. Every new parking lot, no matter how small, has an accessibility parking space. New commercial buildings are designed to accommodate ramps and other such features. So why don’t we design our homes in this way as well?
To tell the truth, it’s something most people don’t think about unless it hits home with them.
If your family doesn’t include a person with special needs, you may think there’s no need to have an accessible home. While this is an innocent assumption, it’s also a bit short-sighted.
Your circle could one day include someone with special needs, be it a coworker, a neighbour, a friend, or a new family member. Accessibility needs of an individual can also change over time, especially for older people after retirement.
You would hate to spend so much time and effort designing the perfect home, only to be unable to share it with someone you love be unable.
That’s why building an accessible home is for everyone. There are steps everyone can take, and things they can keep in mind, when building or buying a house that will help ensure it’s a welcoming place for people of all ages and abilities if and when the occasion arises.
What is Accessible House Building?
The CMHA defines four different levels of accessibility in housing: visit-able, adaptable, accessible, and universal homes.
The three basic features of a visit-able home a level, no-step entry, wide doors and hallways, and a wheelchair-accessible half bathroom on the main floor. These features are meant to ensure that anyone can have access to at least the main area of the house. No-step entryways can be ground-level doors or raised doors with a ramp; however, even a two to three foot step requires quite a long ramp to safely reach, so ground floor is considered ideal.
A visit-able home is the minimum for accessibility in a home, and the level that is most realistic for average homeowners to attain. It covers the three most important aspects of having a home that is open to visitors: the ability to enter the home, ease of movement once inside, and a safe washroom anyone can use.
The other levels of accessibility are adaptable, accessible, and universal. An adaptable house is built with features that can be modified to accommodate someone with a disability at little cost, with no extensive renovations required. You can make an adaptable home in cool, subtle ways: having removable cabinetry in the kitchen to create knee space for someone in a wheelchair, a knock-out floor panel in the closet to allow space for an elevator, and stairs built to accommodate a stair lift. You’d never know an adaptable home just by looking at it.
Accessible homes is designed to meet the needs of a person who uses a wheelchair, with special attention to the floor plan and placement of furniture. Each room has sufficient turning space for a wheelchair, the bathroom has a level, wheel-in shower area, and the kitchen counter have knee space. Universal homes are similar, affording everyone who visits the same choices for using the space, with features like enhanced lighting and easy-to-use door handles.
If you’re looking to make your home more accessible, start with the fundamentals of a visit-able home: the entrance, indoor movement space, and washroom. But if you’re building a house from scratch, it’s well worth considering incorporating adaptable features into the house plan. You never know when you’ll be glad to have them!