For many people, particularly for readers of Community magazine, family gatherings happen at a location that is accessible to all guests. This was certainly the case for many years at my family get-togethers as we always included my Aunt Jeane in our celebrations. Because she had MS she used a wheelchair for mobility and that meant we needed to gather at a home that had an accessible entrance and accessible main floor bathroom.
A visitable home is exactly what my clients Lauren and Alex are house hunting for. Lauren’s brother Paul was recently in an accident that resulted in quadriplegia and Paul needs to use a power wheelchair for mobility. Lauren and Alex currently live in a multi-level townhouse with stairs to the front entrance. It’s not accessible for Paul, who prior to his accident spent a lot of time at their home, especially during the Blue Jays season.
Lauren and Alex want to continue to host family gatherings that include Paul and his partner Aimee. They’ve made the decision to purchase a home that is already wheelchair accessible or can be renovated.
In my Spring 2015 article I introduced the concept of visitable homes. To recap, there are three basic elements to consider:
- An entrance way at the front, side or back of the home that is free of steps.
- Wider doorways – at least 36 inches – and clear passage from room to room on the main floor.
- A powder room or main bathroom that can be accessed by visitors who use mobility devices.
A mechanical lift is often the only option when houses are close together and lot sizes are small. Landscaping can be utilized when there is enough outdoor space around a home. (For more info on entrance solutions please see my article “Roll On In” published in Outspoken! Winter 2016.)
In condominium buildings, an entrance solution can be achieved with proper landscaping and automatic door operators. (Please see my article “Opening Doors” in Outspoken! Spring 2018 for more info on door operators.)
Once inside, a visitable home needs a main floor bathroom. However, finding a home with one can be a challenge. And if there is a main floor bathroom, they are often very small and tucked away, and rarely large enough for a person using a wheelchair to access. In Paul’s case there also has to be enough room for the person assisting him. This is when some creative solutions may be necessary.
Another option to open up space within an existing bathroom is relocating the bathroom vanity. I’m seeing more and more restaurants with open concept wash stations outside of the toilet stalls. Why not consider that option at home?
Door hinges that swing out, or pocket doors allow more space within the bathroom. And temporary screens and curtains can also be used.
The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has published a number of fact sheets on visitable homes. Here are four benefits highlighted by CMHC:
- Convenience: There’s easy access for aging parents, young children, parents with strollers, visitors who use a wheelchair; as well as for moving heavy items.
- Community: It creates an accommodating environment for residents of all ages, especially for the elderly, where everyone feels welcome and engaged.
- Comfort: A spacious open concept with large doorways and hallways makes moving around easier and provides pleasing esthetics; plus, there’s less risk of falls and injury caused by steps.
- Maintenance: No front steps makes snow shovelling a little easier in the winter.
CMHC is actively involved in studying how to bring visitable homes into the mainstream housing industry. I will post their research on my website.
Lauren, Alex, Paul and Aimee are pictured in front of a house that I showed them. It’s a Century Home that’s fully accessible near Broadview and Danforth in Toronto. They decided it wasn’t quite the right fit for them so it is still a great opportunity for someone else who is in the market for an accessible home.
It was during this viewing that I got inspired to share their story, and they readily agreed! Finding a home that is already visitable – like the one pictured – is rare, so we’re focusing on homes that already have a main floor washroom and adequate space to add an entrance solution.
The plan is to be settled in their visitable home in time for the Blue Jays 2019 season opener. And from that point on, when they’re asked “Whose house for the holidays?” they will be able to say “Everyone’s welcome at Our House!”
Jeffrey Kerr, Broker, Barrier Free Real Estate Specialist
RE/MAX Unique Inc., Brokerage