Visitable design, when executed properly, leaves no one out – it is totally inclusive. It is a very close relative of universal design. While universal design includes functional elements in and about the home that are usable by basically anyone, that require low physical effort to operate or use, that have a high tolerance for error, and that fit into the space where they are located without calling specific attention to themselves as to why they are there, visitable design does not involve specific features but creates the framework for unfettered access to the property and the home.
The visitability premise is quite simple. It states that anyone – regardless of any physical limitations they might have (or not have) – who desires enter into a home – the owners or occupants of that home, along with anyone one else who might desire entry for whatever reason, such as a neighbor, relative, or a friend who was invited or dropped by unexpectedly. It could even be a total stranger that was attending an event hosted at this home or who wanted to talk with the family living there.
Visitability, when properly done, means that the occupants of the home can host an event at their home – card party, cookout, dinner, cocktails, discussion group, club meeting, pool party, movie night, or get-together – without additional considerations about their home being able to receive their invited guests. They don’t need to take any special precautions or prepare anything differently in advance of their events.
Anyone who comes to someone’s home, whether expected or not, can enter, once invited in, and have no issues with access. However, it begins even before the front door. Classic visitable design just concerns itself with getting from the entry door into the home and navigating the inside space well. However, it does little good to have the inside of the home visitable for someone if they have difficulty getting to the door to enter.
With visitability, anyone who comes to a home can approach the front door without difficulty and then go inside if they are invited in. Of course, being in a wheelchair, or using crutches, a walker, a cane, or other mobility assistance can limit someone’s ability to get to the front door unless this already has been taken into account with visitable design. Someone might otherwise have difficulty climbing even one step because of hip or knee pain or range-of-motion limitations, or they might be dealing with arthritis, low vision, poor balance, other physical issues that affect their general movement, visitable design eliminates these issues as far as gaining access to the home.
Stated as simply as possible, visitability means that people can arrive at a property (their own home or one they are visiting as a guest), approach the entry, go inside, and feel totally at ease the entire time.
There is a notion that visitability is a design concept focused on new construction. While it would be fantastic to see this incorporated into new construction, the major emphasis is on retrofitting existing homes to create this universal access.
Also, many seem to believe that visitability is intended to accommodate people known to the homeowners who have some type of mobility limitations. This is far too myopic. If the design employed is just to aid people that are known to the homeowner, then specific modifications can be undertaken to accommodate those – and only those – needs. Visitability means that we don’t have to know in advance who might be coming to an event we are hosting at our home or if someone that we know to be able to climb steps has had an injury or surgery since we last saw them or spoke with them.
By beginning our emphasis on visitable design at the street or perimeter of the property, we will make sure that there are no broken or uneven sections of sidewalk (this means no stepping stones because the walkway must be a continuous hard surface), that the driveway is in good repair and also a hard surface, that water is not draining onto or pooling on any walkway, that there are no steps (because the property is relatively flat or we have accomplished the rise with a sloped or inclined walkway to the front porch or stoop), that there is a large enough area on which to stand on the porch or stoop to await the door being opened, and that the porch or stoop has a large covering and adequate lighting to provide safety while waiting.
There are some homes, due to their age, neighborhood, or architectural style, where elimination of steps or inclusion of a covered porch is going to be very difficult to accomplish. In some cases, an alternate entry or other means of access may need to be determined. Still, visitable design accommodates most anyone coming to a person’s home – even if they live there. Even when there are challenges, the more that can be done to create visitability, the better anyone’s experience in coming to this home.