Creating a Visitable Home for the Holidays: Mobility Impairments (difficulty walking or moving around)
Visitability is traditionally a concept that means creating a home that can be visited by people with mobility impairments. This series of posts looks to expand this idea to include making homes visitable by people with a wide variety of common disabilities, functional limitations, or health conditions. The key idea is that a home isn’t just built for one person or even one family, but should be welcoming to all people in the community who may want to visit.
- More info on visitability can be found from the National Council on Independent Living. They outline key concepts for building and remodeling homes, such as having a zero-step entrance, doorways that are 32″, and a wheelchair accessible bathroom on the main floor.
- Whole Building Design Guide provides good visual examples.
The holidays are a time when the visitability of homes get tested. Grandma struggles to get up the steps to the front door, Uncle Jon trips over the bathroom rug, and Cousin Mary isn’t able to come because she is worried about how her child with autism will handle the crowd. People often aren’t aware of the multitude of barriers that can make visiting others’ homes challenging, and often these barriers can stop some people from coming to visit altogether.
However, some simple improvements can be made to homes to increase visitability for a variety of people, making your home more welcoming to everyone. While not all these ideas are true home modifications, they accommodations that are fairly quick and easy things you can do today.
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Top 5 Quick Ideas for Visitors who have Mobility Impairments
Mobility impairments are reported as the most common disability, with about 16% of the population struggling to walk or go up and down steps/stairs. For some people this is from joint issue, such as a bad knee, hip, or back. For other people, it may be a general decrease in strength and balance. Yet for others, the main concern may be for vision.
Mobility impairments can have many different causes, but the common feature is that a person struggles to move their body in their environment (their home), such as walking, moving from sitting to standing, or avoid tripping hazards in a home environment. Many people with mobility impairments limit their walking for safety (such as not going out when it is dark or in slippery weather) and/or choose to use a cane, walker, scooter, or wheelchair.
Some simple home modifications can help those with mobility impairments feel more welcome in your home and make their visit easier and safer.
1. Easy in and out: One of the most daunting aspects of visiting another person’s home is being able to get from the car to the house and back out to the car. Make the pathway from the car to your house visible and easy to navigate. Turn on the lights and add more lights as needed. Remove any ice, snow, leaves, or other tripping hazards. For guest who use wheelchairs or scooters, consider using a portable wheelchair ramp (about $100-200, available online).
2. Space at the Entrance: Find as much space as possible at the main entrance. This allows room for a person to move around with the assist of another person or a walker (or cane, wheelchair, etc.). Have a chair with arm rests to sit on while putting on or taking off clothing and shoes. Use a small table or ledge as place for guests to sets down bags, purses, or packages (often reaching to the floor is difficult).
3. Find the Right Chair: Sitting down in chairs and standing up can be very difficult for people with mobility impairments. Firm chairs with arm rests are often the easiest to use (soft couches and chairs that are low to the ground tend to be the hardest). Keep in mind that some people need larger and stronger chairs due to obesity. Try to have a few seating options available for people of all abilities in the main gathering space and in the dining space.
4. Give a Handhold: When people feel unsteady on their feet, they seek out support with their hands. Make sure you have handrails anywhere there are steps or stairs. People often need a handhold to get up and down from chairs (and toilets). Consider adding grab bars in the bathroom and having chairs with arms rests to help guests feel safe.
5. Think More Light: People use their vision to help guide their balance so make it easy to see. Turn on the lights in your home and leave them on while guests are there. Increase lighting by increasing bulb wattage when safe and adding lighting where needed.
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Add handholds for support.
Increase lighting for balance.