This evaluation or assessment needs to look at the physical nature of the home itself and how well it can accommodate changes that might be necessary (as well as how easy those changes would be to make), and it needs to factor in the personal element of how the occupants of the property and any guests they may entertain will be able to use the space effectively.
It is both an objective survey of what the way the home was built, room sizes, general layout, construction materials, age of the home, and condition of what is present as well as a subjective one involving the occupants of the home and how well they relate to space and accomplish the tasks that are important to them.
We can't begin to suggest a plan or undertake any improvements until we have a firm grasp on what is present and it needs to change - and to what extent - to appeal to the needs of our clients. We need to create a design specific for the needs of the client and the physical parameters and constraints of the property they occupy. Even if we find ourselves completing many similar projects, it's not appropriate to suggest a typical approach of what we generally install or create because it may not comply with what the client needs. This is what we begin with the assessment.
Through observations and direct interviewing, we must determine the priorities of what they clients think they want and need. We will examine how they use various aspects of their home, which areas of their home are the most important to them in terms of where they spend the majority of their waking hours, which parts of the home are not that important to them, and how making modifications (especially for accessibility) will enhance their overall quality of life in their home.
It's important to learn what their home will not allow them to do that they feel is necessary. This could make the difference in their home continuing to serve their needs long-term and it not being that comfortable or pleasant for them to occupy. We might determine that an additional room or rooms need to be constructed, that existing space needs to be reconfigured or reallocated, or that a particular space such as a kitchen, porch, bathroom, or family room needs to enlarged or enhanced by taking space from adjacent rooms or removing built-ins that restrict how the space can be used. Perhaps there is a hobby that cannot be pursued or enjoyed as much as they would like due to the way the current space is designed where they might pursue that activity.
As is frequently the case. there might be general lighting issues, where the space that they want to use for a specific activity is too dark or insufficiently lit to allow them to use it effectively. Maybe there is not enough natural light available because the windows are not large enough or plentiful enough. It could be a wiring issue where the additional lighting that is needed or required cannot be supported without more circuits or outlets.
In addition to what we see and experience, we need to get people to reveal what they are interested in doing in their home that they presently cannot do at all or cannot do to the extent they desire - or perform it safely, easily, or comfortably. Then, our challenge is to help them determine how this can be done and to gain agreement on doing it.
Once we are satisfied that we have a good grasp on what is going on in the client's home - from the standpoint of what the home features as well as the functional needs and abilities of our clients - we can form an opinion and present options for them to consider.
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.