Visitability

Visitability is the design approach for new housing such that anyone who uses a wheelchair or other mobility device should be able to visit. A social visit requires the ability to get into the house, to pass through interior doorways, and enter a bathroom to use the toilet. Visitability stresses specific accessibility features from a social reform perspective, and counters social isolation.

Description

Newly constructed homes often contain the same major barriers as older ones: steps at every entrance and narrow interior doors, with the bathroom door usually the narrowest one in the house. Supporters want to change construction practices so that virtually all new homes, whether or not designated for people with mobility impairments, offer three specific accessibility features that will make it possible for most people to visit:

  1. at least one zero-step entrance on an accessible route leading from a driveway or public sidewalk,
  2. all interior doors being wide enough to allow a wheelchair to pass through (approximately 81 cm or 32 in), and
  3. at least a toilet (room) on the main floor.[1]

These features are designed around the needs of a person using a wheelchair while visiting, but they are also helpful to people with other kinds of mobility impairments. Temporary disabilities could create a need, for example a resident breaks a leg and requires a wheelchair, walker or other mobility device for an extended period.

  • Living permanently in the home with a significant mobility impairment requires two additional basic features on the main floor: a full bathroom and a bedroom (or a space that could be converted to a bedroom).
  • Visitability is similar to Universal Design in general intention, but is more focused in scope, more specific in parameters, and more explicitly grounded in a social reform intent.
  • Neither of these are a part of the visitability standards.

Visitability features make homes easier for people who develop a mobility impairment to visit friends and extended family. The consequence of not having a visitable home is usually having to turn down invitations, or not be invited at all.

These features also provide a basic shell of access to permit newly disabled people to remain in their homes, rather than forcing them to do expensive renovations, relocate to a different house, live in an inaccessible home which endangers their health and safety, or move into a nursing home.