The places we call home matter. Our homes are often the nexus of our lives; they are the places we leave from and return to. In this context homes should be places of safety, privacy, and security. However, for people with disabilities this may not be the case. Often, the physical design of housing does not fit the needs of individuals with disabilities, but little is known about the extent of this problem.
We are learning more, however. Lillie Greiman, Andrew Myers, and Craig Ravesloot, from RTC:Rural, present what we do know from their research, exploring the accessibility of America’s housing. Results from an analysis of the American Housing Survey reveals 44% of owner and 54% of renter households have steps at their entrance, and only 38% of owner and 45% of renter households have grab bars in the bathroom. Housing for people with disabilities is missing key accessibility features.
Housing accessibility is really just one factor of home suitability. Greiman and colleagues also explored the “home experiences” individuals have within their residences, as related to entering and existing the building, meal preparation, bathing, cleaning, and using living, storage, and sleeping spaces. They measured ease, satisfaction, safety and the level of exertion a person endures when engaging in these various activities throughout the home. What they found is people with mobility impairments report lower rates of ease, satisfaction and safety, and higher rates of exertion with home experiences relative to those without mobility impairments.
In the area of participation research, these findings lead us to ask additional questions about how home experiences may impact other areas of daily community life. For example, when we have to exert more energy simply to navigate within our homes, how does that limit our ability to participate outside of our homes, such as with employment and social activities?
Homes may be the assumed place where independent living begins, but unsuitable home environments may lead us to say something different.