When people think of residential access, likely getting into the home through the entry door comes to mind. Often, the focus is someone using mobility assistance of some type. However, residential access is a larger concept than just whether someone using a walker or wheelchair can make it easily through the front door.
Sure the doorway is important, but before that comes into play, safe passage from the street to the front door – or from the driveway to the front door – matters a great deal also.
As important as getting to the front door and then moving through the entry door into the home, a large part of access that is often overlooked, but is just as important as gaining entry into the home, centers on actually using and experiencing the home once inside. This means maneuvering through the home and being able to reach and use all of the functional aspects of the home.
Essentially, someone should be able to open a window, go from room-to-room, set the thermostat, turn on or off light switches or ceiling fans, retrieve items from the pantry or cabinet, go into any room, move about inside that room, prepare something to eat, use the bathroom and shower, reach frequently used items on cabinet or pantry shelves, open drawers, see themselves in mirrors, and generally function independently in that home – whether they live in that home, visit it regularly, or are just an occasional guest.
Many homes come up short in providing this type of access, but this is necessary for effective living in our homes.
Just as avoiding objects and other obstacles, stepping on them, or negotiating one’s way around items in the yard or on the walkway affects access to the home – as well as affecting one’s overall safety – because it present challenges and creates a barrier, from subtle to severe depending on what is involved, the same applies inside the home. Objects that are on the floor (toys, magazines, books, boxes, or anything else) or loose or bulky rugs must similarly be negotiated to walk safely in that space. When someone using a walker, cane, or wheelchair – or someone with poor balance or impaired vision – uses this space, it presents many challenges.
Insufficient lighting, or artificial lighting that casts strong shadows or create glare, can exacerbate safety issues by concealing or partially obscuring objects that are on the floor or in someone’s path of travel.
Safety is an integral part of accessibility. Being able to negotiate spaces, reach and use items in the home, and feeling comfortable in that space relate directly to how accessible that home is.
Having a clear pathway into and inside the home is important, but being totally at ease inside the home is part of the overall accessibility design. People need to be able to reach easily and comfortably anything that they need to enjoy that home – appliances, windows, thermostats, light switches, plumbing fixtures, faucets, closet shelves, door handles, cabinet pulls, and other objects that they might want. Their physical size, strength, range of motion or reach, and whether they are seated or standing should not matter. This truly presents a picture of residential accessibility.
Our challenge in evaluating someone’s living space – or even looking at our own homes – is checking the viability of them in allowing for anyone living in or coming into that living environment to use and enjoy all of the items in that home that they might have occasion to use for activities of daily living, for interacting with others in the home, for moving about inside the home and going between rooms, and for maintaining their personal comfort.
Access is a large concept that has many aspects to it. It is so much more than just being able to enter a space and affects how well someone can use a home after gaining access to it. It accounts for any mobility, sensory, or cognitive limitations they may have and also considers any challenges the home presents in allowing full access.