Newly constructed homes often contain the same major barriers as older, existing homes: steps at every entrance, and narrow interior doors, with the bathroom door usually the narrowest door in the house. Therefore, in the visitability movement, three key features are promoted:
If a goal is residents' remaining in the home if mobility impairment occurs, two additional basics are necessary: a full bathroom on the main floor, and a bedroom or 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.
Visitability features make homes easier for people who develop a mobility impairment to visit friends and extended family rather than having to turn down invitations, or not be invited at all. These features also provide a basic shell of access to permit formerly non-disabled people to remain in their homes if they develop a disability, 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 from the community into a nursing home.
Basic access goes beyond visiting. It also helps a person of any age who develops a temporary or permanent mobility impairment. Without basic access in place, architecture forces severe choices:
These issues can apply equally to a person who is recovering from surgery, or to a person who has used a wheelchair for decades.
On new construction, a zero-step entrance can usually be incorporated without a “ramp” per se, i.e. without a structure that has 90-degree dropoffs at the edges and rails at the sides. In most cases, this type of ramp is not necessary because the entrance can be achieved by deliberately grading the lot in a way that permits the sidewalk to meet the porch without a step.
For the 40% of homes built with a slab-on-grade foundation, the zero-step entrance is typically extremely easy. The methods for homes are virtually identical to those used for slab-built commercial buildings such as banks and restaurants. For homes with basements or crawlspaces, several solutions can provide low-cost, attractive zero-step entrances. Among these are using a porch as a bridge to the sidewalk; lowering the first-floor rim joist into a notch in the foundation wall at the time of construction; a short, conventional ramp tied into a side or back deck or porch; creative use of a small retaining wall; and constructing the zero-step entrance from the garage. With all methods, siting the home properly on the lot and grading the earth with the zero-step entrance in mind are essential.
Great Britain applies the most widespread application of the concept to date. In 1999, Parliament passed "section M", an amendment to residential building regulations requiring basic access in all new homes.
Advocates maintain that the philosophical underpinning of Visitability is as important as the list of features. They maintain that building homes with steps at all entrances and narrow interior doors is an unacceptable violation of human rights, given the harsh effects the barriers have on so many people's lives: physically unsafe living conditions, social isolation and forced institutionalization.
In the United States, successful Visitability legislation has been passed in many localities, including Atlanta, Georgia; Pima County, Arizona; Bolingbrook, Illinois; San Antonio, Texas; and the State of California. As of June 2006, 46 state and local municipalities had a confirmed visitability program in place; while 25 of these programs are mandatory ordinances, the other 21 are voluntary initiatives (i.e. cash and tax incentives for builders and consumers, consumer awareness campaigns, and certification programs). In addition, there are numerous efforts to establish visitability programs in other states, counties and cities across the country. The research identified another 30 initiatives currently underway. They range from organized groups of individuals with an expressed interest in beginning a visitability program to locations that are in the final stages of developing a program .
Visitability: a growing trend: while the word may be difficult to say at first, it is an easy concept to understand.(Cover story)
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