Very few homes allow accessibility. They are in need of visitable or universal design improvements. When those homes that require aging in place solutions are added, nearly all homes are included. There just aren’t very many homes that couldn’t stand to have some modifications done to them to assist people in coming and going and moving about both inside and outside the property. That’s the good news for aging in place professionals like us. The flip side is that there is a large resistance and reluctance to undertake this work – for several reasons.
Because the overwhelming number of people are in the no urgent needs category as they age, they largely don’t identify with any perceived issues with their homes. They either don’t have issues negotiating stairways, narrow hallways and doorways, hard to grasp and use cabinet and door hardware, and the like, or they just don’t want to focus on the change such improvements might mean because that would mean admitting that age is catching up with them. Instead, the cope, adapt, or just deal with it in their own way. Many ignore the shortcomings of their homes and just accept it as the way things are.
In a few cases, accessibility home modifications might already have been made – but it’s the way they have been done and the extent to which they have been completed that can still present some issues. Nevertheless, we are in the early stages of seeing consumers accepting changes that can be made to their homes and in having such improvements provided for them
Our chief challenge in making such accessibility improvements to promote ease of movement and general visitability is educating people to the changes – often minor and inexpensive – that can be done to help them enjoy their properties more and to be safer in them. We can eliminate the risks of slips and falls, which is a huge accomplishment due to the prevalence of these as dangers to life and health as people age. We also can help people have a more pleasant and enjoyable experience in the way they use their appliances, cabinetry, bathroom fixtures, light switches, electric outlets, and other areas of their homes.
As we consider improvements that can be made to help people age in place long-term and remain safer in their homes, we need to look at how they enter and leave their homes (doorway width and direction of swing as well as access in approaching the door from either side), the safety of the flooring in terms of providing solid, non-slip or slip-resistant flooring, even lighting throughout the home so that there are no hidden or shadowed areas and that objects in the home are easy to see, interior doorways that are easy to use and pass through, bathrooms that offer no physical challenges in being able to use them effectively, and kitchen that are functional and enjoyable by occupants of the home and their visitors and guests.
It’s one thing to create a home that is usable for the people who live there full-time and another to extend the functional usage of the home to anyone who might come calling or attend an event in the home to which they were invited.
Creating improvements and modifications for people that have special needs is not difficult in terms of having people accept what we offer. They recognize that improvements are necessary and contact us to perform them. It’s with the people that don’t perceive any physical or sensory limitations (even though they may have some issues) that the challenge exists. They have to be willing to allow us to help, and sometimes they are more receptive if we approach it from the standpoint of making their homes more accessible for people from the outside – and helping them at the same time without directly calling attention to it.