Where can you go? Increasing Adoption of Visitability Standards by Homebuilders

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University at Buffalo, Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA)
RERC on Universal Design in the Built Environment
Submitted by Jordana Maisel and Edward Steinfeld

Focus

RERC staff utilized the development of research-based solutions, real world housing demonstrations, and leveraging of community adoptions of visitability to effectively mount a knowledge translation strategy to increase the adoption of visitability standards for homebuilders by municipalities.

Context

The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Universal Design in the Built Environment, housed at the University at Buffalo, advances knowledge translation for universal design using the Knowledge-To-Action Model. It generates strategically important research, development, training, and dissemination deliverables that integrate universal design principles with the generally accepted models, methods, and metrics in building and product manufacturing industries.

KT Activity

The goal of the RERC was to change behavior of homebuilders to include concepts of visitability in their construction. Visitability is a movement in home building to increase opportunity for people with mobility impairments to live in and visit homes of others without encountering significant barriers. RERC staff understood the current designs that hinder people with mobility limitations and used this to propose solutions and standards for homebuilders

To foster an understanding of visitability design for homebuilders, RERC staff built “show homes” demonstrating visitability features. The show homes were then evaluated by focus groups of people with disabilities to determine the extent to which these features increased accessibility. The focus groups made recommendations, which were incorporated into the show homes featured in expos for homebuilders across the U.S.

Because some homebuilders continued to be resistant to adopting visitability features in their new construction, RERC staff partnered with Concrete Change, an international organization that offers resources to affect policy in the area of visitability of all new home construction at the local, state and federal level. Concrete Change strategically focuses on policy change instead of relying on the market to shape more accessible homes because “the market alone is not enough to address the segregation, public health problems and fiscal waste of continuing to build houses with no access” (see www.concretechange.org). RERC staff partnered with this advocacy organization to affect the growth of visitability design across the U.S.

Impact

The RERC's success in increasing visitability and universal design practice has been seen in many settings. Large organizations, such as AARP, the Congress of New Urbanism and some chapters of Habitat for Humanity have signed on to support and implement visitability design. In addition to the use of these standards, a national bill on mandating visitability in new construction is being supported by legislators in the U.S. House and Senate. Many municipalities have adopted visitability requirements including Vancouver, B.C. and Austin, TX (see www.concretechange.org).

Lessons Learned

Design and research are iterative practices. It is important to incorporate time into projects to assess research findings and innovations for usability among your intended users.

Contact Information

Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access
University at Buffalo
School of Architecture and Planning
3435 Main Street, 114 Diefendorf Hall
Buffalo, NY 14214-3087
+1 (716) 829.5902
ap-idea@buffalo.edu
http://idea.ap.buffalo.edu/Projects/index.asp#rerc2010
http://www.udeworld.com/rercud-overview.html