Visitability: Making Your Home a Welcoming Place for Visitors with Disabilities
Research and Training Center on Disability
in Rural Communities
Updated May 2009
A friend or family member with a physical disability can easily visit you in your home.
All new, single-family housing integrates basic affordable and sustainable accessibility features.
Emphasis is on the most essential access features, such as exterior entries and interior doors.
Widespread construction change can happen more quickly.
Visitability does not require including a long list of desirable access features or adhering to a comprehensive full-accessibility construction standard.
What makes a home visitable? A visitable home has three features:
The visitability movement grew from Eleanor Smith's conviction that basic architectural access to all new homes is a civil and human right and improves livability for everyone. Smith founded the Concrete Change organization in 1986 and by 2003, she and her colleagues had worked with Habitat for Humanity to make 300 Atlanta homes visitable. Thanks to Smith's vision, visitability was designed into all 67 homes in the housing development where she lives in Decatur, Georgia.
How many homes are visitable in your state or community? A recent study projected that at some point during their lifespans, a quarter of all homes built today will house someone with a long-term, severe mobility impairment. We've begun to calculate the number of visitable homes in Montana. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducts Montana's annual Behavioral Risk Factor Survey (BRFS)http://www.cdc.gov/brfss/. In 2004, we added a question on visitability and asked 5,005 Montanans "If a person who uses special equipment such as a wheelchair came to visit you, could they get into your house without being carried up steps or over other obstacles?". From their responses, we estimated that 19.3% of Montana homes are visitable, and we use this number as a baseline for measuring progress toward making the state's communities visitable. Compared to respondents with disabilities who didn't live in visitable homes, respondents with disabilities who lived in visitable homes reported fewer days of ppor mental health in the past month.
How can visitability increase
safety? Falls are the most common cause of injuries to
older adults. Each year, more than a third of adults aged 65 or older fall, and of those who fall, and 20-30% of those who fall suffer moderate to severe
that decrease their mobility and independence. Sseniors
spend a great deal of their time at home, and half to two-thirds of all
occur there. Injury prevention strategies are effective in keeping
older adults healthy and safe; removing household hazards that
might cause tripping is a simple way to reduce older American's falls and fractures.
How does visitability relate to the health of persons with disabilities? Many Americans with disabilities experience depression. It is a significant secondary condition that limits their participation in daily activities. Older adults with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and social isolation. The disability supplement to Washington state's 2001 BRFS included 16 questions on common secondary conditions. Compared to respondents without disabilities, nearly three times as many people with disabilities reported periods of depression and feelings of isolation. The daily barriers to social support and companionship, which they encounte,r may contribute to this health disparity. Visitable homes might eliminate some of these barriers and reduce the rates of depression and sense of isolation experienced by individuals with disabilities.
Is visitability required by law? People often assume that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or other laws mandate that all newly-constructed U.S. housing be accessible to people with disabilities. Although laws mandate accessibility for some construction, most newly-constructed single-family housing is exempt. Federal Fair Housing Act Accessibility Guidelines include seven basic access requirements for multi-family dwelling units in elevator-equipped apartment buildings and ground floor units in walk-up apartment buildings, but these requirements don't apply to single-family detached homes and townhouses. The Architectural Barriers Act (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, 29 USC sec 794), Title II of the ADA, and many state laws require that housing built with public funding be accessible. However, this usually only applies to a minimum of five percent of the units in a building or project. Accessibility laws do not apply to dwelling units financed by federally-insured mortgage programs.
However, mandated visitability is possible -- the United Kingdom instituted national building regulations (Part M) in 1999 requiring new homes to be visitable. In the U.S., the inroduced H.R. 1408: Inclusive Homes Design Act of 2009 would require all newly constructed, federally assisted, single-family houses and town houses to meet minimum standards of visitability for persons with disabilities.
Could a visitable home have more value than a conventional home? Aging in place means living in your own home or other non-institutional setting as you age. There are products, services and conveniences available to allow or enable you to function in changing circumstances (http://www.seniorresource.com/ageinpl.htm). A home with visitable or accessible features adapts to the needs of aging family members age and/or those with a disability. It accommodates common age-related conditions, such as poor balance, as well as more severe disabilities requiring use of a motorized scooter or wheelchair. A person with an acquired mobility impairment will have a greater sense of well-being if he or she continues to live at home. Visitable homes also may be more desirable to the growing number of Americans retirees seeking suitable single-family homes suitable for aging in place. Future real estate market research should explore the desirability and value of visitable homes.
Are there financial incentives for making a home visitable? There are federal income tax deductions for making an existing home visitable. Costs of certain home improvements are deductible as a medical expense if they accommodate a taxpayer, spouse or dependent with a disability and allow that person to continue living at home. Improvements include, but are not limited to grading a home site to improve access, constructing ramps, modifying entrance areas, widening exterior doorways, widening/modifying interior doorways, installing railings and support bars, and modifying bathrooms. Each of these improvements is an element of a visitable home.
Tthe Internal Revenue Service publishes details of allowable expenses in Publication 502: Medical and Dental Expenses. Only the amount of medical expenses that exceeds 7.5% of adjusted gross income is allowable. For example, if adjusted gross income is $20,000, the allowable amount is $1,500 (.075 x $20,000). If medical expenses for home modifications are $800, the expense is not deductible. If adjusted gross income is $20,000 and the homeowner makes $2,000 in medically-necessary modifications for self, spouse or a dependent, the deductible expense is $500 ($2,000 - $1,500 = $500, IRS, 2008). States may also offer tax incentives, such as the Kansas Disabled Tax Credit and the Illinois Accessible Housing Demonstration Grant Program.
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Hausdorff, J. M., Rios, D. A., & Edelber, H. K. (2001). Gait variability and fall risk in community- living older adults: a 1-year prospective study. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 82, 1050 6.
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Internal Revenue Service. (2003). Publication 502: Medical expenses. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved July 15, 2004, from http://www.irs.gov/publications/p502/ar02.html.
Kinne, S., Patrick, D. L., & Doyle, D. L. (2004). Prevalence of secondary conditions among people with disabilities. American Journal of Public Health, 94, 443-445.
Maisel, J., Smith, E., & Steinfeld, E. (2008). Increasing home access. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute.
Nevitt, M. C., Cumming, S. R., Kidd, S., & Black, D. (1989). Risk factors for recurrent nonsyncopal falls: a prospective study. Journal of the American Medical Association, 261(18), 2663 8.
Pauls, J. (2003). Visit-ability: Advocating this public health goal through improved building codes. Poster presented at the American Public Health Association annual meeting, Atlanta, GA.
Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Independent Living Management and the Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center on Universal Design at Buffalo. (2003). Visit-ability: Making universal access to community life a reality: computer based tutorial. [CD] Buffalo: RRTC-ILM.
Seekins, T., Clay, J., & Ravesloot, C. (1994). A descriptive study of secondary conditions reported by a population of adults with physical disabilities served by three independent living centers in a rural state. Journal of Rehabilitation, April, 47-51.
Smith, S., Rayer, S., & Smith, E. (2008). Aging and disability implications for the housing industry and housing policy in the United States. J Am Plann Assoc, 74 (3), 289-306.
Sterling, D. A., O'Connor, J. A., & Bonadies, J. (2001). Geriatric falls: injury severity is high and disproportionate to mechanism. Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection and Critical Care, 50, 116 9.
Traci, M. A., Seekins, T., Szalda-Petree, A., & Ravesloot, C. (2002). Assessing secondary conditions among adults with developmental disabilities: A preliminary study. Mental Retardation, 40, 119-131.
Truesdale, S. & Steinfeld, E. (n.d.). Visit-Ability: An approach to universal design in housing. Buffalo, NY: Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Universal Design at Buffalo.
Wilkins, K. (1999). Health care consequences of falls for seniors. Health Reports, 10, 47 55.
Center for Universal Design: http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud/
Concrete Change: http://www.concretechange.org/
Kansas Dept. of Revenue: http://www.ksrevenue.org/taxcredits-disabled.htm
Illinois Housing Development Authority:
Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center on Universal Design: http://www.ap.buffalo.edu/rercud
For more information, contact:
University of Montana Rural Institute: A Center of Excellence in Disability
Education, Research and Services
The information provided in this report was supported by grant #R04/CCR818822-02 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC.
This factsheet was prepared by Lisa Brennan RTC: Rural 2004 and updated by Meg Traci, 2009. It is available in standard print, large print, Braille, and as an ASCII DOS text file on disk. The RuralFacts Series is edited by Diana Spas.
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