“Visitability Design Optimizes The Enjoyment Of Backyard Activities For Owners & Guests”

The summer solstice is still fresh in our memory – the official beginning of summer. Likely the weather has been warm to occasionally hot for a few weeks, and we get the chance to enjoy doing things outdoors that we can’t do at all or not nearly as well in cooler seasons. Also, the daylight hours are as long as they are going to be before shortly starting to wane as fall approaches.

Just as there are things that we like to do inside during colder weather, there are things that we can only do and enjoy to their fullest during the summertime. While many of these activities we enjoy doing by ourselves or with the people living with us, we also like the idea of being able to invite friends and neighbors to enjoy them with us.

This illustrates the importance of visitability in the backyard to optimize the use and enjoyment of the activities planned and available for everyone. Too many backyards allow limited visitability and therefore reduce the opportunities available for family members and guests to participate in what is available.

This is where we can make a significant impact in helping our clients – without a huge expenditure of money – to provide the necessary and appropriate access to the backyard activity centers. Without our involvement in terms of education, design, consultation, or actual implementation of our suggestions, the backyard will not realize its full potential and another summer will have come and gone without the residents of the home and their invited guests being able to experience all of the activities as they are intended.

Visitability has three major parts – getting from the street to the front door, getting through the front door and navigating the various parts of the main floor of the home, and getting through the back door and into and around the backyard. Without getting to the front door easily and unchallenged, people may ignore their invitation and decide to leave without entering. Assuming they can get inside, they will not enjoy themselves if there are challenges to their ability to get around in the home easily and safely. To enjoy planned activities in the backyard, they will need to go there directly from the street – foregoing any attempt to enter the home if they find it home is challenging or difficult to enter – or be able to enter the home and pass safely and easily from it to the backyard to partake of the various activity stations in the backyard.

So what are some of the challenges that we see that present visitability concerns? Activities such as swimming pools, spas, whirlpools, sitting areas, yard swings, firepits, and a barbecue area often are located away from the home in areas that are disconnected from the back porch, patio, or deck. There is no connecting hard surface, continuous sidewalk. When there is a walkway, it is often crushed rock or mulch. When it is a hard surface, it frequently is composed of non-contiguous patio stones or brick pavers with grass patches forming seams between them of a few inches to a few feet.

With pathways that do not permit access and use by people using mobility devices such as canes, walkers, crutches, or wheelchairs, they are not going to feel as welcome at the event or are going to have to rely on the assistance of someone else to help them reach the activity destinations. Even when mobility devices are not a factor, maintaining one’s balance while walking on loose surfaces or trying to step over gaps between pavers or patio stones to remain on hard surfaces can be a safety issue.

While there are significant challenges with mulch, rock, pavers and other pathway materials, the most common form of connecting pathway from the deck or patio to the activity area is just grass. As challenging as it is to navigate uneven or disconnected hard surfaces or loose materials,  walking across the grass or propelling a walker or wheelchair across such a surface can be a lot of work and a potential falling risk. With moisture on the grass from dew or residue from sprinklers or a light rain, the grass can be slippery also.

Lastly, many of the actual activity centers themselves are located on gravel. crushed rock, mulch, or random stones with grass growing between them. Assuming that someone can get to the activity area without the connecting pathways being an issue, they may find that walking on, standing on, or moving their chair on such surfaces can be challenging.

As aging in place professionals, we can help people get more enjoyment from their backyard and the many backyard activities that it hosts by creating hard surface connecting pathways and more solid foundations for the various activity area. Their visitors will thank them for doing this also.

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