It only makes sense that if you are planning to build the home of your dreams, you make sure it is a home you can live in for the rest of your life. Here are some of the terms most commonly used to describe accessible housing today.
For most, accessible housing means homes that someone using a wheelchair can enter easily and live in comfortably. Ground-level entrances, wide hallways and doorways, and grab bars immediately come to mind, but there are many other important features that can contribute to the ease of use, including clear floor areas for turning a wheelchair, especially in bathrooms; switches and receptacles set at heights that can be comfortably reached while seated; and cabinets with high toe kicks to accommodate footrests. In other words, throughout the entire house care and consideration are given to design a house that functions well for a person using a wheelchair. Credit the aging boomer population for the fact that you can now get attractive and functional products to increase accessibility!
Related to accessibility is a new idea, visitability. The idea behind this movement is that every home should be accessible to a wheelchair-using visitor—to some degree. That is, one entrance to the main level of the house should be at grade, there should be a bathroom on the main level, and that bathroom should have a 32" doorway. Regulations regarding visitability standards are just starting to appear in new construction standards.
Universal design is a design standard that aims to create homes that can accommodate people with a wide range of shapes, sizes, and abilities. In addition to accessibility issues, that can mean countertops of varying heights to accommodate cooks of different heights, countertops with contrasting-color edge-banding to help someone with failing sight distinguish the edge of the countertop, and levers instead of knobs on cabinets and doors to accommodate arthritic hands.
Aging in place is the idea that as you start to design your dream home, you take into consideration some if not all of the above concepts to ensure you can remain in your home as long as possible. Can you live entirely on the main level of the house if necessary? Is there adequate lighting for aging eyes? Is there blocking in the walls to accommodate future grab bars? Can you navigate the space using a walker? A wheelchair? Accommodating possible future needs can add to the cost of a new home now, but is considerably less expensive than a wholesale remodel down the road.
There is a wealth of web sites that can provide you with more information about these topics—just do a search using the terms defined above.
Reprinted with permission of Hometime®. For further information about accessible housing and universal design, tune in to Hometime or visit www.hometime.com. © Hometime 2003, all rights reserved.