By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Look around your house. Check out the front porch, the hallways, the bathrooms, the doorways. If someone who uses a wheelchair or a walker or even a cane came to your home, how easy would it be for him or her to get around?
Whether you call it accessible design, visitable design, or universal design, making your home welcoming to all your family and visitors is just plain good sense. Even if no one in your immediate circle has physical limitations, you may have an occasional need to accommodate a guest or a future need to accommodate a family member as the years go by.
The American Disabilities Act requires better accommodation of individuals with disabilities in institutional and commercial buildings. There are no legal requirements for a single family residence, but with nearly 80 percent of the population now living past age 65, many baby boomers are considering accessibility issues in their home design.
Retrofitting a home for accessibility can be complex and costly. But if you are already considering a remodel or an addition, accessibility can be sensibly incorporated into your new design without breaking the budget or the beauty of your home.
There are a few major areas to address. First, you’ll need a zero-step entry with a 36 inch wide entrance door. This is nothing more than a sidewalk that rises gently to the main floor level. This type of entry is also useful at the rear or garage entry to your home.
Second, you will need a roomy bathroom. Providing a 36 inch-wide door and an open space measuring at least 30 inches by 48 inches will accommodate someone using a wheelchair or a walker.
Third, widen your doorways, both inside and out. Code requires a 32-inch door, but by merely switching to 36-inch doors, you allow everyone into every room. Also, the lower the threshold, the better. For true accessibility, nothing taller than a quarter inch should be used.
Kitchens become more accessible with an open space of at least 30 inches wide by 48 deep in front of each appliance or work space. Also consider installing a section of the counters slightly lower than the standard 36 inches — about 30 to 34 inches high.
A few more inexpensive items to consider include placing switches and outlets between 15 and 48 inches above the floor for easy access and adding reinforcement or blocking in bathroom walls before you finish the sheetrock and tile so you can easily add grab bars and shower seats in the future.
Finally, there may be lots of reasons to avoid stairs—whether because of disabilities, aging knees, or an injury — so a ground-floor bedroom and bathroom is a good idea for any home.
We are fortunate in Salt Lake that we have the nonprofit organization, ASSIST, which provides design assistance for the disabled. They publish a wonderful resource book called Guidebook to the Accessible Home. Stop by their office at 218 E. 500 South or call 801-355-7085 to purchase a copy of their very helpful guide.
As the general population ages and as people with disabilities are more and more integrated with daily society, universal design becomes desirable for any residence. Make sure you consider these issues when you contemplate any addition or remodeling project. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.