Home Usability and Independent Living
Developing agency support involves convincing people within your agency that home usability is important. We provide some discussion here to help you emphasize the idea that home usability is central to independent living, consistent with the independent living philosophy, and potentially affects every aspect of a person’s life.
The independent living philosophy sees disability as the product of an inaccessible society and environment. Disability is not a medical condition to be cured, and people with disabilities do not need to be “fixed.” Rather, it is social perceptions and attitudes alongside environmental barriers that create disability and prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in their communities.
Historically, the environment we live in is built for and designed by individuals who walk upright on two legs and have full mobility and range of motion. Stairs are perhaps the most obvious feature that reflects this design bias, but look more closely and the evidence abounds. Sidewalk curbs, high counters, and narrow walkways all illustrate how the built community environment favors nondisabled individuals.
This bias is not limited to public spaces, but is also found in home design and layout. Most homes in the United States are inaccessible to someone using a wheelchair, be it through steps at an entrance, narrow door-frames, or high thresholds.
For people with disabilities to live and participate as full and equal citizens in the community they must have somewhere to leave from and return to. This place is where we call home, whether it’s a single family home, a townhouse, a duplex, or an apartment. Finding accessible and affordable housing is a major concern for people with disabilities and centers for independent living work closely with their consumers to help find such housing. However, housing and the places we call home are about more than just shelter. In fact, the place we call home can have impacts on our health, quality of life, and ability to live independently.
An unusable home can present barriers to daily living that negatively impact an individual’s ability to fully participate in their community. Increased energy spent on overcoming usability problems in the home (such as limited kitchen or bathroom access) can reduce time and energy for additional life pursuits such as employment, socialization, and even relaxation.
In addition, unusable homes can contribute to an increased need for personal assistance or support services. By eliminating home usability problems, time and energy can be made available for the individual (independently and/or with personal assistance) to engage in activities beyond basic needs.
Home usability is an IL skill
Having a home space that suits your needs is one of the most important steps to living independently. Home usability and independent living skills go hand in hand. In a way, home is where it all begins.
All of the basic Activities of Daily Living (ADLS) and many of the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLS), such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals, and housework take place within the home. Other independent living skills, such as taking care of pets or service animals, doing laundry, managing personal assistance, and even shopping for groceries are closely linked to home usability.
It is difficult to prepare meals, particularly healthy meals, in an unusable kitchen. Proper hygiene can be difficult to maintain when getting in and out of the bathtub is difficult and perhaps dangerous. Doing laundry can be next to impossible if the communal laundry room is inaccessible.
For people who use personal assistance services a usable home can increase the efficiency and safety of services provided, thereby making them more effective. In fact, home usability can be viewed as an integral step for increasing independence for all people.
Usability beyond the home
The resources and connections developed through the Home Usability Network can inform and contribute to other work that your center does. When a home is unusable to the point that basic access is impossible, CIL services are unavailable to people. This suggests that basic home usability (e.g., usable entrance and bathroom) is a pre-requisite for independent living which includes the ability to access CIL services.
Deinstitutionalization and preventing institutionalization of people with disabilities are also important new CIL objectives. The Home Usability Network could be a valuable tool for CILs to help individuals transition into a usable and sustainable home that can best prepare them for full community participation.