The Town of DeWitt Sustainability Policy promotes accessibility for people with mobility impairment and other disabilities. Our community is one that values the quality of life for all residents and seeks to make it easy and safe to age in place. Our goal is to inform the community about inclusive design for housing, other buildings, and community infrastructure, and to encourage a greater use of inclusive design in the Town.
In the United States today approximately seventeen percent of American families include someone with significant mobility impairment; defined as “a condition that substantially limits one or more basic physical conditions such as walking, climbing stairs, reading, lifting, or carrying.” While mobility impairment effects people of all ages it increases with age. The rate of mobility impairment increases significantly with people age 65 years and older. Projections are that 20-25% of the American population with be age 65 or older by the year 2030. Therefore, having a community that is sensitive to inclusive design will become increasingly important.
In general, there are two major approaches to inclusive design and they are often referred to as universal design and visitability.
Universal design is a method of designing buildings and infrastructure so that everyone can use them. This means, for example, that the doorways and hallways are wide enough for a wheelchair, countertops and light switches are easily in reach, and bathrooms have necessary safety features. Universal design is generally a holistic approach applied throughout a building.
Visitability is a different standard of inclusive design. This standard is one that seeks to make it possible for any invited guest to be able to easily and safely access the home of any other person. This means that the entrance to the home, a main floor bathroom, and the primary area for entertaining should be accessible to people with mobility impairment. This is like universal design but more specifically focused on parts of a home or building that are the primary focus of social interaction.
Key concerns: Inclusive design addresses four critical concerns.
- Permitting people to safely and easily age in place. We want people to be able to age in place without having to prematurely move out of a family home. For example, many people, as they age, remain able to live independently but run into difficulty in dealing with homes that have many steps. If these homes were designed to be inclusive from the start a person might well be able to live comfortably in place for many more years. The need to prematurely leave a home because of its non-inclusive design is both costly and disruptive.
- Maintaining important social networks. As people age and mobility becomes more problematic they often find not only that their own home poses barriers to easy and safe navigation but that they can no longer safely and easily visit the homes of family and friends. If poor design makes one’s home difficult to navigate those same design features probably make other homes difficult as well. The idea of visitability is that every building and every home should at least eliminate barriers to safe and easy access in those parts of the structure that focus on social interaction. This is important because even if a person makes his or her home fully accessible, the person still hopes to be able to continue to visit family, friends, and neighbors in their homes as well.
- Social, community, and political participation are important. Mobility impairment can make getting around town difficult. We understand the importance of maintaining social networks, community connections, and political participation. A well designed community seeks to enhance ease of access not only within a given home or building but among the various locations in which community life takes place.
- Fairness and perception. To a large extent the idea of mobility impairment as a disability is shaped by the way we design the buildings, homes, and transportation systems of our community. Certain design features are barriers to full participation for some people simply because of the design itself. In fairness to everyone we should work to incorporate designs that enhance full and open participation by as many people as possible. Bad design should not shape our understanding of a disability or pose a barrier to some of our neighbors. The goal should be to continuously move to better designs that enhance fairness and equality of access among everyone in our community.
Below are some helpful links that explain inclusive design and that offer information and updates on various matters related to inclusive design.
Center for an Accessible Society
Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA, located at SUNY Buffalo)
Center for Universal Design
Concrete Change: Every New Home Visitable
Institute for Human Centered Design: What is Universal Design?
United States Access Board: A Federal Agency Committed to Accessible Design
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Accessibility Requirements for Buildings
Universal Design Alliance