Monday, August 14, 2017

"Removing The Moat Around Our Castle"

It's been said that a person's home is their castle - a place to retreat to, to block out the rest of the world, and to retain relative safety. Speaking of safety, most castles had a defense system in the form of a moat encircling the perimeter of the walls to keep invaders from getting inside.

We don't have a literal moat - except after very hard rains in some lower lying areas - but we still might be keeping people from approaching our homes. We might even be making it difficult for us to get to and then through our own front door. 

The concept of a moat lies at the heart of the idea of visitability. The idea of having a moat is to prevent people (especially attackers and intruders) from getting too close to the castle entrance. When the castle wanted to allow its own members or people it knew to enter, the drawbridge was deployed.

Visitability is the opposite approach. It means eliminating anything that prevents easy access to the front door - by anyone. It is a permanently available drawbridge from the street or driveway to our front door. Unlike the moat separating unwelcome people from the castle entrance, we want to make homes inviting and welcoming. There is no one who is intentionally being kept away - at least from the front door.

Whether it is the occupants of the home, a neighbor, someone invited over for a visit (such as for a party or a dinner, to watch a game, or play cards), someone who drops by occasionally, or an out-of-town relative, all who approach the front door should be welcome and find their path unobstructed. Anything currently existing that is contrary to the message deserves action to eliminate or mitigate it.

There are many factors that could be preventing or interfering with direct, easy access to the front door of a residence. It could be a simple as low hanging tree branches over the walkway or sand, gravel, or leaves that have found their way onto the surface of the entry sidewalk (from the street, driveway, or both). Grass or weeds could be encroaching upon the walkway from the edges or in the expansion areas between the sections of the walkway. There could even be some low spots where water pools after a rain or use of the sprinklers,

At the front door, there could be stairs to negotiate which make it difficult ("moat-like") for some people. They will have a hard time getting past this. Creating a low rise or no-step entry - even if it is at a door other than the front one - is an important priority for adding visitability to the home. Anyone with knee or hip issues or who uses an assistive device will find steps to be a major challenge and deterrent to entering the home. 

Good lighting at night, solid and non-slip footing on the stoop or porch, and plenty of room on the porch or stoop on which to wait while the entry door is opened and access is granted are important aspects to creating a feeling of welcome for this or a home also.

While our homes can be our figurative castles in terms of being a welcome retreat for us to return to each time we leave and venture out into the world, they should provide no barriers or restrictions to gaining access upon our return. The same applies to anyone who visits - invited, expected, or not. We cannot afford to create or allow any artificial impediments to anyone approaching our homes - including us.

As aging in place professionals, this is a challenge we should take seriously and work toward creating a solution - even when there are specific issues that need to be addressed on the interior of the home. In some cases, this might be the only work we recommend or complete for people. There are so many homes where easy access and approach are not available.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist-Master Instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.