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August 24, 2016

Why Visitable Housing Matters

The friends and family members who visit and live in our homes come in all shapes and sizes. From infants to seniors, they have various, ever-changing abilities and skills. As we grow up, grow old and welcome new people to our homes, our housing needs change. A house that is designed and constructed with the principles of universal design will be safer and more accommodating to the diverse people who live and visit with us.

Universal Design

Universal design refers to environments that have been created to be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size or ability. It is a subtle shift from what is typically done - a more focused way of designing. Principles of universal design encourage flexibility, adaptability, safety and efficiency. It extends the life and usability of a home, and allows for people to “age in place”.

Visitable Homes

The concept of “visitability” is one of the simplest and most affordable approaches to universal design. Simply put, visitable design is meant to benefit as many people as possible. Friends with disabilities, elderly relatives, new parents with strollers, visitors using mobility devices and people moving furniture all benefit.

A visitable house incorporates three basic access features:

  • A no-step entry
  • A clear opening width of at least 81 cm (32 in.) at all main floor interior doors
  • A main floor half-bath or (preferably) full bath with a 150-cm (60-in.) turning circle

The criteria for establishing housing varies by jurisdiction, but the objective is the same – providing accessibility to visitors of all ability and mobility levels.

Single-family home with visitable entrance at the side (Photo by Ron Wickman)

Why Visitable Housing Matters

One in six Canadians have a disability. Seniors make up 14.1 per cent of the Canadian population and one-third have mobility problems. The vast majority of elderly Canadians want to remain in their homes as long as possible. Visitable housing responds to the increasing 65 years and older population (over one-fifth of all Canadians by 2026) and their desire to age in place.

When visitability is planned at the outset, added costs are low and can be recovered by future savings. For example, lower costs for renovations driven by changes in mobility. Other benefits include:

  • Lower risk of falls or injuries
  • Broader resale market
  • Easily combined with other building innovations, such as affordable design, green architecture and energy efficiency

The full Accessible Housing by Design fact sheet goes into more detail on the value and importance of visitability. It includes design requirements and principles, and discusses accessible community design. Finally, it features the success story of the Bridgwater project – the fastest selling neighbourhood in Winnipeg.

Read the fact sheet – Accessible Housing by Design: Visitability (PDF)



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