Visitability Doesn't Need a Government Solution

Everyone understands that we have an affordable housing crisis in Idaho. However, there's another housing crisis that would be much easier to solve.


According to the Idaho Housing Forum, economists see a 60% probability that every newly built single-family detached home will house at least one disabled resident—and a 91% chance that each new home will welcome disabled visitors during its useful life.


I see this daily when I'm knocking on doors in District 15. People go to a lot of trouble and expense to retrofit their homes for a family member who lives there and for friends and family who need a ramp to visit. They build ramps from plywood or buy expensive aluminum ramps to get wheelchairs up one or two steps and into the front door.


Once you get inside—assuming the front door is wide enough for a wheelchair—the average home is still not very welcoming to someone in a wheelchair. Most of us don't think twice about narrow doorways, but they are challenging to navigate in a chair. Doorknobs that require a firm grip and a wrist twist are frustratingly difficult to open for many people. Bathrooms are often too small to turn around in for those in wheelchairs.


I called this inaccessibility a crisis at the beginning of this piece. Some might call it a mere inconvenience. But if you have a mother or brother in a chair and your home was not built to accommodate them, it's a crisis, especially when the need is sudden.


The situation could be solved with building code revisions, but the government doesn't have to step in. It's the private sector that builds single-family houses. If half the population were in a wheelchair, the market would dictate that a high percentage of new homes would be more accessible. But the market here is all but invisible because it's often—let's call it—a developing market. People age, people have accidents,


That's why smart builders, developers, and architects should consider visitability in their plans. Retrofitting homes for wheelchair access is expensive. Building them to be accessible in the first place adds little, if anything, to the cost of a home.