Sunday, July 27, 2008

Planning journal says majority of homes need Visitability

From Concrete Change, which promotes universal home access through visitability:

How many houses need to have access features? When urging universal Visitability, advocates often are told that people with mobility impairments make up only a tiny slice of the population, and the needs of these few should not impinge on general house construction.

Now, the Journal of the American Planning Association—--widely read by city and regional planners, architects, and developers--—has published research revealing the breadth of the need.

Researchers found that, by one measure of disability, a startling 60% of ALL HOUSES built today in the United States will have at least one resident with a "long-lasting, severe mobility impairment" at some point in the lifetime of the house. Using a second measure, the odds are 25%.

Those high percentages do not even take into account severe SHORT-term disabilities. Nor do they take into account the desire of people with disabilities to visit their friends and relatives. When visiting is accounted for, the percents of houses affected rise to 93% and 51%.

Why are the percentages so high? Because the need for home access cannot accurately be based upon the approximate percentage of people who have severe mobility impairments at any one point in time. (In any case, minority status does not render people unimportant.) Highly relevant is the house itself, over the many decades that it serves as a dwelling. More than one person lives in a typical household! If just one person in the family becomes disabled, the house needs access. Furthermore, more than one household lives in a dwelling as the years pass! It is sold, re-sold, rented, re-rented, resold, and so on. When additionally taking into account the rapid increase of older people in the population, with the accompanying rise in mobility impairments, it becomes apparent why a huge percentage of houses will need access.

Of course we can't predict in which house the child with cerebral palsy will be born, or someone will develop multiple sclerosis or have a stroke. EVERY new house (except for the small percentage where topography is prohibitive) should be constructed with the affordable, humane, basic access features which you and others in our Visitability movement have been promoting.

The 19-page article is titled "Aging and Disability: Implications for the Housing Industry and Housing Policy in the United States" and appears in the current issue (Summer 2008). The final paragraph states:

"The needs of an aging population, combined with concerns about the civil rights of people with disabilities and the high public cost of nursing home care, make the lack of accessible housing a critical issue for planners and policy makers. Although planners have traditionally focused their efforts on the built and natural
environment outside the home, the time has come for them to look more closely at the environment inside the home as well. Efforts to improve a community's quality of life by promoting amenities such as attractive public spaces, walkable destinations, and proximity to public transportation are highly desirable, but will be incomplete
without efforts to improve housing accessibility. Given the slow pace at which changes in the housing stock occur, there is urgency to act now. Increasing the supply of accessible housing will benefit not only currently disabled people, but also their families and friends, those who become disabled in the future, and society as
a whole."