Visitability and Universal Design

Monday, February 24th, 2014

Article written by Carolyn Cook for the Town of Davidson’s HIA program


A front door wiih a zero-step entry welcomes everyone.

A front door with a zero-step entry welcomes everyone.

Visitability is an affordable, sustainable and inclusive design approach that integrates the most basic Universal Design features into all newly built homes.  Visitability features make it easier for those with mobility impairments to visit friends and family and remain active in their community.  Visitability calls for three basic features to be included in all new homes:

  • One zero-step entry into the homes on an accessible route from the driveway or public sidewalk;
  • Doorways with a minimum of 34″ wide clearances; and
  • An accessible restroom on the first floor.


Inaccessible homes impede the lives for those with mobility impairments due to illness, accident or age.  Over the lifetime of a home, 25-60% of all new homes will have a resident who becomes permanently or temporarily disabled.  Visiting an inaccessible home presents the danger of falling on entry steps, the worry of maneuvering a wheelchair into a bathroom and the embarrassment of being carried  up stairs.  The inability to enter a home, to leave a home or use a bathroom independently can result in isolation, depression and physical illness.  The success of emergency response teams and home healthcare programs (meals-on-wheels, hospice-at-home, physical therapy, senior transportation) depends on home accessibility.  The safety and independence of everyone–children, visitors with disabilities, caregivers–improve due to the increased prevalence of visitable homes.


A visitable home needs, at a minimum, one zero-step entry with a wide door opening.  The location can vary per site topography.  The entry can be at the front of the home, the back, the side or through the garage.  With new construction, the lot can be easily graded to tie walkways and driveways directly into the porch.  If visitability features are addressed during new construction, large costs can be avoided in the future.

Cost of New Construction

  • Zero-step entry on a new concrete slab–$200
  • New door widened from 2′-8″ to 2′-10″–$2.00 per door

Cost to Retrofit

  • Add a zero-step entry–$3,500
  • Widen an existing door–$800
  • Add an accessible bathroom–$15,000-$35,000

*Conservative estimates are based on surveys conducted by Concrete Change and the IDEA Center


  • Learn more about Visitability and Universal Design and share what you know with friends, family and neighbors.
  • Incorporate Visitability features within your existing home or while building a new house.
  • Join committees within your community to provide input on decisions around housing, aging-in-place, community development, parts, transportation, greenways, etc.
  • Raise awareness of the need for Visitability by writing letters to the editor, blogging or speaking to interested groups.

For more information go to:
Concrete Change
Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access

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