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Disability Insurance Observer: Visitability

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I came across this problem yesterday while working on an article that was siloed in my mind as a long-term care insurance (LTCI) article.

But, really, I think this issue applies to almost anyone who sells any kind of product that would cover. And that is: “Just how accessible are the new homes being built today?”

Amanda Lehning and Annie Harmon included a section on housing accessibility in a report backed partly by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

When Lehning and Harmon wrote the report, they were thinking about measures that a community could promote that could increase the odds that Jane Taxpayer will age comfortably in place, rather than having to move into a nursing home simply because, in her current home, she has to claim three flights of stairs to reach the bathroom.

The University of Michigan researchers apparently looked for national databases they could use to measure what percentage of the single-family homes in various U.S. communities were accessible, or “visitable.”

The visitability movement promotes the idea that a new single-family home should have at least one entrance that can be used without climbing up or down any steps; first-floor doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or scooter; and a bathroom on the main floor.

The researchers discovered that they could find no good way to figure out what percentage of new homes in various communities were either visitable or accessible in other ways.

Of course, using a wheelchair or scooter is not the only form of disability, and visitability is not the only consideration for evaluating a house, even for people with disabilities.

During Hurricane Sandy, for example, someone who uses a scooter to get around in a home on the New Jersey shore might have preferred doors that were high up and flood resistant over doors that were convenient for a scooter user but also convenient for flood water.

Maybe some people with some types of disabilities would prefer to have narrower doorways and hallways rather than wider passageways.

Maybe there are people with various disabilities who’d like to add a recommended feature to the visitability feature list. Maybe, for example, many people with hearing problems would like to see all new homes come with a doorbell, smoke alarm system and carbon monoxide alarm system with a flashing light warning option.

I don’t think this is a great time for the government to impose new accessibility mandates on builders of single-family homes. Home builders seem to have a tough enough time right now without them having to worry about new compliance rules.

But, on the other hand: Life and health insurers certainly have a stake in helping older people stay in their homes, and in helping younger disability insurance and health insurance customers cope with any disabilities that they might have or acquire.

Life and health insurers also invest heavily in housing-market-related financial instruments.

Maybe life and health insurers could promote talk about accessibility and visitability standards, and use of the standards, just by offering to create a recognition program for home construction financing users that make a point of estimating what percentage of the homes involved in projects would be visitable, or what percentage would be accessible using some other yardstick.

Maybe just gently encouraging home construction financing users to think a little bit about accessibility would create the data needed to jumpstart national conversations about the topic and get companies to focus on increasing new-home accessibility on their own, regardless of what the government does or does not do.

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