Building Homes With Accessibility In Mind

January 31, 2016
John Quinn

In 2015, the U.S. celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 56 million Americans have some sort of disability. That’s more than 18% of the population, which makes those with disabilities the largest minority group in our country. Today, this home builder is taking a moment to reflect on the state of accessibility within home design and construction.

The original scope and intent of the ADA was quite broad, including preventing discrimination in employment practices, making public transportation accessible to everyone, and creating accessibility standards for commercial buildings, public walkways, parking lots, etc. These, and other highly visible examples, are the aspects of the ADA we’re all familiar with, yet you might not realize that the law has very little reach into the home.

As a home builder the ADA has almost no impact on my business, since personal residences are outside the scope of the law. In most cases, a man can build his house as he sees fit, with no thought of accessibility whatsoever. That is his prerogative with his private property. Since there’s no true governing body or standard for accessibility in residential construction, companies can technically build homes without putting forth any effort to make them more accessible, unless a particular client asks for specific modifications to a home’s design.

This is not to say, however, that the building industry can afford to take a pass on making accommodations for those “less able” than others. Over the years, I’ve chosen to go beyond thinking of the required laws when building homes to thinking what would be most beneficial. Sometimes I do build for families who request certain features, such as a ramp instead of stairs, hand rails in the shower, etc. But more often than not, these days, I’m the one first suggesting we consider accessibility in a home’s design.

When I meet with new clients in my office, I’ll first ask if they have any special requests for accommodations. Most don’t. But even if they don’t, I’ll press them: “Is this the home you want to retire and grow old in?” “Is there any chance your mother-in-law will move in with you as she ages?” “How about when Grandpa comes for a visit?” Pushing gently in this direction usually elicits a response such as “Oh, that’s a good point. We hadn’t thought about that. My mom has started to use a walker since she turned 80…”

The goal in this line of questioning is not to find ways to outfit a home with unnecessary and expensive modifications; it’s to consider the bigger picture and prevent any obstacles to the family enjoying and staying in their new custom home as long as they wish. No matter how much they love their two-story home with the beautiful master bedroom on the top floor now, it could become a burden instead of a blessing if there’s any chance one of them will need a wheelchair in a few years. …and try asking anyone who’s needed a knee replacement just what they think of walking up and down the stairs. A situation where the homeowner is unable to access their own home is something builders want to avoid at almost all costs.

To read the rest of this article, published on Builders Online, please click here.

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