Can they get in? Accessibility for visitors from street to front door

In this holiday season, many of us look forward to gathering with family and friends, often at someone’s home, for meals, conversation and celebration. We’re excited to decorate our homes with seasonal ornamentation and share hospitality with visitors. In the midst of merrymaking, though, you might notice with disappointment that some people tactfully decline your invitations or suggest alternate locations such as restaurants.

With everything ready to accommodate visitors inside the house, is your home really visitable from the outside?

Historic style handrail to match house style

Historic style handrail to match house style

Observe how people enter your home. Think about all kinds of visitors who may find it tough to reach your entry doors. Are you immediately thinking of someone aging who’s in a wheelchair? Visitors can be any age with short-term or long-term movement challenges:

  • Your niece pushing a dual stroller with her new twins,
  • A teenager with a full leg cast and crutches due to a sports injury,
  • Your sister using a cane because her arthritis flares up when the weather’s cold,
  • Your cousin leaning on a walker due to her intermittent multiple sclerosis.

Changes could make it easier for callers to stop by – and prepare your home to meet your future aging-in-place needs at the same time.

Fine-tune the adaptations by asking your friends and family to field test the changes. Confirm that people feel comfortable with levels of lighting and support, safe from falling or upsetting a stroller or wheelchair, and secure that there is enough room to maneuver.

First, let’s consider lighting. Yes, it’s tough to admit, but our eyes need substantially more light as we get older, but even younger eyes are affected by allergies or distractions like texting. Check that the light at your front door is bright enough. Light fixtures with ratings from the Dark Sky Association can be great options. You’ll want the fixture to direct light downward and clearly illuminate the door and walking surface in front of it. Downward shielding can also reduce glare, which is another visual challenge for aging eyes.

Make it easy for visitors to enter your home:

  • Shelf or table near door to rest packages while knocking or opening the door
  • Bench or chair for a quick rest if needed
  • Doorbell or knocker visible after dark and easy to operate
  • Door has lever handle rather than knob for limited grip use
Small ramp for access from garage or patio

Small ramp for access from garage or patio

Often, homes are constructed with a threshold that requires a step up to enter the home. Or you may have a short staircase right before the landing at the door. One solution is to design a ramp that goes over the threshold or staircase, similar to the two examples here.

Ramp over steps with handrails and traction strips on surface

Ramp over steps with handrails and traction strips on surface

Notice that the short ramp has no handrails, and the carpet at the bottom is a tripping hazard. The ramp over the brick steps has handrails with a flat surface.

I have questions about these examples:

  • Would someone using a walker feel secure on these ramps?
  • Would flat handrails be a good solution for someone who needs to grip and lift themselves along with arm strength?
  • Is the second ramp flat enough for someone who is self-propelling a wheelchair out of the house?
  • Would someone in either case be able to stop and open the door themselves?

Asking potential users is the best way to find out. If you are able-bodied, asking those who are differently-abled, even short-term, is good practice for making visitors feel that your home is visitable because they can get into and out of it! Thinking about your home and garden in terms of visitors is the first step to planning your aging in place landscape. Are you ready for all kinds of visitors?