Why is home accessibility important?
Many of the homes occupied by older adults were built in earlier decades, when there was less awareness of the need to ensure physical accessibility for older adults and people with disabilities. Homes that lack important ease of use and convenience features may make it difficult for older residents to bathe, use stairs, enter and exit easily, or meet other daily needs. Such barriers may precipitate an unwanted or premature move to an assisted living facility or to an institutionalized setting, which can limit independence and be emotionally taxing and financially burdensome.
What are some different approaches to improving home accessibility for older adults?
A range of approaches can improve home accessibility for older adults. The most straight-forward and cost-effective strategy is to design and build homes to universal design standards so they are accessible to people of all abilities. Universal design is an approach to designing products and environments to be appropriate for all people, including those with physical, cognitive, or sensory impairments. Within a residential setting, examples of universal design features include a blended step-free entrance route, multiple countertop heights, wide doorways, lever faucets, and a curbless shower with handheld adjustable shower head.  Rather than being geared solely to older adults and people with disabilities, universal design features are intended to have general utility and market appeal.
Related to universal design, the concept of visitability is based on the principle that all new homes should include basic features that make them accessible to people regardless of their physical abilities.  A visitable home has a main level that is accessible for both residents and guests through the incorporation of three key features: at least one zero-step entrance; wide interior doors; and a half bathroom on a home’s main level. Unlike universal design, which can be applied to a variety of products and environments, the notion of visitability is focused exclusively on housing.
Homes not built to universal design or visitability standards can be modified to include accessiblity features. Home modifications are retrofits or adjustments to existing homes that are undertaken to improve physical accessibility for people with disabilities or for older adults who choose to age in place. Although modifications are not usually made to meet universal design or visitability standards, per se, many of the features adopted to improve accessibility, ease of use, and convenience naturally meet these criteria.
Click here to learn more about modifying existing homes to improve accessibility
Click here to learn more about the adoption of universal design and/or visitability features in new homes
Go back to learn about other tools that help to provide accessible, safe, and affordable homes
 Beyond 50.05: A Report to the Nation on Livable Communities. [PDF] 2005. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute.
 “What is Visitability?” Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access.
The views expressed herein are for information, debate and discussion, and do not necessarily represent official policies of AARP.