Accessible Housing for Everyone

A photo of Allan Checkoway, a Principal of Disability Services Group, Employee Benefit Advisors

By Guest Blogger Allan Checkoway, Author and Principal of Disability Services Group, Employee Benefit Advisors

If you’re in the process of buying your very first home and you don’t have any physical limitations, why bother searching for an accessible home that features universal design? There’s actually no reason not to. But first, let’s consider your likelihood of ever needing an accessible home.

The day we’re born, every one of us has the opportunity to live to age 85 or longer. The lifestyles we create for ourselves (e.g., abusing alcohol, smoking, being overweight or exercising diligently and eating healthy meals) often contribute to how long we remain alive on this planet. The Council for Disability Awareness reports that a working age American will experience a long-term disability every seven seconds! Most are ill prepared when it happens. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 54 million of our fellow Americans are classified as “disabled.” That represents a startling 12 percent of the total population, and many of them are not living in accessible homes.

First and foremost, no one expects to become “disabled.” For the vast majority of Americans, most disabilities are a complete surprise. An automobile accident, your first heart attack, a sudden stroke – these instances almost always catch us off guard. We are all well aware that we never know what tomorrow will bring. This is especially true as we pass through our different stages of life; our needs and physical capabilities are sure to change.

When your spouse and you are living in the same home at the retired age of 75, you’ll be glad you bought a universal design home when you were young and healthy. You won’t be as restricted when it’s time to sell your home. Moreover, it’s less expensive to adapt a home today than remodeling decades from now. Although there aren’t reliable statistics on the value of homes with universal design features, it is safe to assume that they can only increase your home’s value in comparison to those with traditional design features.

We tend to make plans for today based on our married “mindset.” An important factor for couples to consider today is to imagine life without your partner. One of you won’t always be here, so what then?

Consider the following: America’s senior citizens are the most likely generation to need accessible housing features. Moreover, men and women over the age of 85 are the fastest growing segment of the population. Homes today are still not being designed for an entire lifetime.

Interestingly enough, I did a Google search for “universal design” and “accessible housing” and found an extremely limited amount of up-to-date, reliable information. Since our senior population faces the greatest likelihood of frailty and being medically compromised while living on fixed incomes, they’re also the most vulnerable financially.  Having a disability necessitates the need for immediate access to reliable, current and well-researched information on housing accessibility. In the midst of a health crisis is not the best time to be making important decisions about the accessibility of your home.

Since America’s seniors tend to be the least computer literate segment of our population, the “bottom line” is that they need reliable, accessible housing information that is easy to find. They need it quickly, and it absolutely must be trustworthy. If you’re not computer savvy, your local librarians can be enormously helpful.

If you’re reading about universal design for the very first time, we’ll keep it simple. Sound universal design principals start with:

  • “Barrier-free” rooms that can easily accommodate walkers or the turning radius of wheelchairs. Doorways and hallways should be at least 36 to 42 inches wide, so that appliances and furniture can be moved with ease.
  • Step-free entrances.  There should be at least one entrance to your home (e.g., front, back or garage door) that is step-free for a wheelchair.
  • Single floor living, meaning your home is on one level like a ranch style home.  
  • Appropriate” lighting in all livable areas, since older eyes tend to have difficulty adjusting from light to dark areas.
  • Physical support accommodations, such as grab bars, secure hand rails, etc.
  • “Safe” design. More than 80 percent of deaths from falls happen amongst older adults with two-thirds estimated to be preventable!
  • Modern design of household appliances, such as sink faucets, oven controls, lighting controls, etc.
  • Adjusting heights to minimize bending, lifting, kneeling, etc. in frequently used spaces.

Lastly, there’s no “one size fits all” since designing for the impact of a multitude of specific health conditions varies greatly. Restricted mobility, limitations from frailty, vision loss, etc., all require different adaptations.

Universal design makes your home more desirable for everyone – regardless of age or ability today or 40 years from now. Very simply, you’ll be able to “age in place.” Regardless of whether you have a disability or not, young or elderly, accessible housing is for everyone.

About the Guest Blogger

Allan Checkoway is the author of Your Guide to Lifestyle Changes for Seniors & Individuals with Special Needs which will be available in May 2014. Those interested can subscribe to his Disability & Long Term Care Advisory newsletter at www.eldercaresurvival.com.

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