A core value of independent living is full and equal participation in life activities. Centers for Independent Living (CILs) use a variety of tools to prepare individuals and communities for full participation, including independent living skills training, peer support, information and referral, and advocacy. Participation is as much about the environment as it is about the individual. Independent living philosophy emphasizes that much of what limits an individual’s full and equal participation is in the environment in which he or she lives. This includes both the person’s community and their home.
Participation begins at home. It is where we prepare ourselves for our active days and full life participation. The usability of a person’s home environment can facilitate or impede this preparation.
Individuals are best able to prepare when they have a usable home that fits their needs, and a home is most usable when the person has the choice and control to use all aspects of their home. That means they have access to and control of features in their bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen. The Home Usability Wheel (below) shows how home features may help a person participate in life. People prepare their bodies by dressing, bathing, and eating. Choice, control, and dignity within the home creates a mindset for exercising choice, self-advocacy, and independence in the community. Likewise, the ability to entertain friends and family in a visitable home supports the development of social relationships. Finally, a safe, secure, and comfortable home gives people the sense that they belong, an important aspect of spiritual well-being and health.
The Home Usability Wheel
Usability: Beyond Accessibility
Addressing these basic accessibility needs has been the focus of housing advocacy for decades. While there is still a great need to increase the availability of affordable and accessible housing, there are many people today who could benefit from making their existing home or apartment more usable. This can be a good option when people either cannot find accessible and affordable housing and must make do with the space they are in, or if accessibility regulations do not address their specific needs and abilities.
Home usability is less about measurements and codes and more about fit and function. Spaces can be usable for some individuals and not others. For example, an accessible bathroom may not be usable for a person of short stature.
Home Usability Issues
A home space that fits one’s preferences, needs, and abilities is a usable space. Most homes are not designed with the needs and abilities of people with disabilities in mind. This creates homes which may not always be usable for everyone. A usability issue is a barrier or obstacle that impacts an individual’s ability to enjoy and use the spaces within his or her home. However, usability goes beyond just function. An individual may be able to access and functionally “use” the kitchen cabinets by climbing up on the counter, however this method may put the person at risk for injury and would therefore be a potential usability problem.
Below you will find some examples of potential usability problems. You will notice that home usability problems are not limited to issues requiring a home modification for accessibility. Though this may often be the case, usability issues are broader and can occur around the needs for assistive technology (AT) or personal assistance, or simply a room reorganization.
- A need for a home modification: door handle adjustments, exterior ramps, widened doors, threshold ramps, offset door hinges, grab bars.
- A need for a piece of assistive technology (AT): AT can be very complicated (computerized communication devices) or very simple (reacher/grabber arm extension). Some of the best adaptations are cheap and homemade. Every state should have its own AT program. Reach out to yours to find out more: List of State AT Programs.
- Usability issues related to personal assistance, family members and roommates:
- Self-advocacy or communication skills training could help a consumer better direct and train personal assistance services to address relevant usability issues. For example, a consumer with good communication skills could more easily direct his or her personal assistant on how to best maximize meal prep time.
- Similarly, communication skills training can help address family or roommate-related usability issues (such as clutter preventing access to a room or home feature).
- Addressing usability issues in the home could potentially free up time with a personal assistant that could result in a more fulfilling home life (for example, increasing usability in the bathroom could cut bathing/shower time in half, opening up some assistance time for other needs).
- Not having an emergency or safety preparedness plan in place could be considered a usability issue. Feeling safe and secure in one’s home is a critical aspect of home usability.
- As you can tell from these examples, the idea of usability is broad and goes beyond accessibility codes and fair housing regulations. Because usability issues can be so varied, it is important to have a network of diverse individuals on hand to help address these issues. This network is the Home Usability Network
Home Usability Networks
Home usability solutions identify strategies for improving all aspects of a person’s home in order to support and encourage full participation. Home usability needs and solutions are diverse and may be unique to the individual. Disability advocate Justin Dart Jr. referred to a customized need for empowerment based on the needs and abilities of each person. With a collaborative group called the “Home Usability Network,” or HUN, we hope to move towards customized home usability solutions. These networks will use innovative strategies to find customized solutions to usability problems. Together as communities, we can move toward usable homes for all people to provide a level playing field for full participation.
This website will help guide you through the four steps of developing a Home Usability Network at your Center for Independent Living.
This section introduces the main concepts behind usability and outlines the skills necessary for creating and managing a Home Usability Network at your center. Pages within this section cover: What is a Home Usability Network?, A Consumer-Directed Process, HUN Facilitation Skills, and Developing Agency Support.
Once you have reviewed the core concepts and skills training found in Prepare, you are ready to create your own Home Usability Network. This section outlines the creation process and provides tips and resources to help build the network. Pages within this section cover: Who Is in the Home Usability Network?, Outreach to Potential Members, and Building, Growing, and Maintaining the Network.
Now that your network is built, it’s time to put it to work! This section will provide you with resources and guide you through implementing the Home Usability Network to address a consumer’s usability needs. Pages within this section cover: Implementation Overview, Home Visits and The Home Usability Plan, Working with the HUN, and What about Fair Housing?