By Patricia Yeager
While chatting with a staff member the other day, she mentioned that she bought her home in her early thirties. Now middle-aged, she’s beginning to realize the home’s multi-level design won’t allow her to age in place. At some point, she’ll have to sell the home she loves and purchase one with accessible features.
She’s not alone. This is a growing challenge faced not only by an aging population, but by countless people with disabilities. These days, finding an affordable home is hard enough. Finding one that’s affordable and accessible is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
The answer, of course, is to build more houses that can be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of age, lifestyle or disability – a concept known as universal design (UD). These homes incorporate accessible features like a no-step entry, living space all on one floor, switches and outlets at easily reachable heights, wide hallways and doors, and lever-style door handles and faucets. As aesthetically pleasing as they are functional, universally designed homes can accommodate individuals from the time they have small children all the way through retirement.
Best of all, building a home with these features adds minimal cost to the overall price, and is more cost effective than retro-fitting an existing home. And when it comes time to sell, accessible features can actually add to a home’s value. So why don’t we see more builders incorporating UD?
Like most industries, construction is all about supply and demand. And according to builders I’ve spoken with, very few people are demanding accessible homes. This isn’t a surprise since many people, like my staff member, don’t think about accessibility until they need it. And even if they do think about it, they don’t realize they can ask for it.
But asking is the key to improving our homes, our lives and our community. If you’re planning to build, ask your builder to incorporate universal design. If you’re looking to buy, ask your Realtor to only show you homes with accessible features. If they can‘t help you, ask who can. Ask, ask and then ask again. The more we demand change, the more builders will understand that accessibility isn’t an option. It’s a necessity!
For more info on universal design, read The Independence Center’s issue brief at bit.ly/TheIC-UD.
Patricia Yeager is CEO of The Independence Center, the local home of civil rights for people with disabilities. Send questions or comments to [email protected]. Submit your guest columns for print consideration to the editor at [email protected].