We should be attuned to what people are witnessing, viewing, hearing, and experiencing when they enter our homes. As they remain for a period of time, how does their experience change? Does the home seem inviting, challenging, pleasant, appealing, or accessible?
When we act like we are seeing our home for the first time, any initial impression that someone else might form would accrue to us as well. We might see our home quite differently if we had a visitor’s mindset and perception.
All of the little nuisances that we have come to live with, overlook, or ignore now suddenly are present. Part of our review and evaluation is aesthetic. We want our visitors to think that our home looks nice and appealing. It may not match their sense of decorating or their tastes in design, colors, styling, or other factors. That’s OK as long as everything is neat and out of passageways so that they have access to the various areas of the home.
Can we imagine people of various sizes and abilities using our home – taller or shorter than us and how they would reach objects that they might need to use during their visit, or less able or more able to move about our home than us and what challenges they might face (even with a wheelchair, walker, cane, or crutches)? What about people with vision or hearing challenges – will they be able to navigate and experience our home safely and easily?
We have talked about the importance of lighting in other articles, so how well is our home lit? Is it bright enough to see where everything is located that might form a hazard as people move from room-to-room? Is there enough light to read easily? Is the light creating undue glare or reflection from shiny surfaces and creating discomfort or a potential hazard?
In general, how easy (or challenging) is it to move from room to room, to find a comfortable place to sit, to visit with friends in the kitchen, to come and go freely, and enjoy the home as much as any visitor or guest might expect to with free access to it?
When we assess the visitability of our own homes - the capacity to have someone of any size or ability enter and remain safe during their period of time in our homes (from a few minutes to several days) - we get an opportunity to accomplish three very important things: (1) plan for, anticipate, and address the needs of people coming into our homes to make sure they feel as comfortable and safe as possible, (2) make any physical changes to our homes that might be indicated to facilitate more visitability and a more positive experience, and (3) use this insight and additional information (empirical research) to go into the marketplace and accomplish visitable design in our clients' homes.
Doing this type of self-evaluation with our own homes prepares us to modify them to present the best possible illustration of what we want others to have - leading by example - and helps us learn how to approach our client's homes. It prepares us for what we might see and experience in other homes. Then we can be more prepared to work with it and offer appropriate solutions.
We can address issues that we find in other people's homes, but it gives us a more solid, practical background of some of the issues we might face and how to address them if we begin where we are the most familiar and comfortable - in our own homes.
Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, 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.