Martin Blair

“Come over any time!” Wouldn’t it be nice to invite friends and family who use wheelchairs or walkers to our homes without worrying about whether they could actually get in the house? Have you ever thought about friends or family who aren’t included in activities at your home because they can’t get in? Maybe it’s stairs or narrow doors or maybe they can’t maneuver “the facility” if nature calls. 

In my world, there were several great “include everyone” successes in 2014. One was the much publicized opening of the Silver Summit all-abilities playground in Missoula’s McCormick Park. It was built as a place for ALL children, regardless of ability. Another great success that few know about was the passage of Missoula City’s so-called “Visitability Resolution.” Sure, it’s just a bunch of words, but they represent a commitment to encourage us to make our homes easier to visit and live in. The resolution, passed last April, gives fast-track plan review to those building projects that incorporate zero-step entrances, larger door openings, a larger main floor bathroom, and electrical outlets and other controls (light switches and thermostats, for example) that are easy-to-reach.

Homes (houses, apartments, townhomes, etc.) that incorporate these features are just easier to get into and live in. These features enable people who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches and other mobility aids to safely enter a home and get around. “Visitability” features include everyone.

Let’s face it, you and I are getting older. People over the age of 65 are the fastest growing sector of Montana’s population. As we get older, the likelihood of disability increases exponentially with each graying decade. In 2013, about 44,000 Montanans over age 65 lived alone. Needless to say, personal safety and ability to remain in our homes until the end of our lives are a big deal. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that the homes we live in at age 30 will be safe and meet our needs when we turn 60 or 90?

Over 13% of Montana’s population lives with one or more disabilities. A recent survey indicated that nearly 64,000 Montanans over the age of 5 had serious difficulty walking or climbing stairs. That may be you. That may be your grandparents, or uncle or maybe it’s your neighbor or one of her young children. In any case, not everyone can use stairs. Those who use wheelchairs or scooters to get around need at least 32 inches of door space (34-36 inches is better) and 3 foot wide halls to move from room to room.

Missoula’s visitability program is a positive step towards a fully inclusive community. The Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana applauds Missoula’s recent successes and looks forward to the day when builders, developers, remodelers, designers and all Montanans expect our homes to include everyone. We envision a day when all Montanans experience an improved and satisfying quality of life, regardless of their physical or cognititve abilities. Thanks Missoula!

Martin Blair is the executive director of the Rural Institute for Inclusive Communities at the University of Montana. He can be reached at 406-243-5467 or martin.blair@umontana.edu. Visit: www.ruralinstitute.org

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