Senior access while investing in a new home
Keep ADA compliance and elderly family in mind before renting or owning your next home
When you’re in your 20s, American Disabilities Act checklists are rarely if ever on your mind. You rent your first apartment and are more focused on how big the bedrooms and bathrooms are than you are thinking of whether the building is ADA compliant. Unless you were raised by or grew up around your grandparents, you may not even notice some of the obstacles that make it harder for both seniors and those with disabilities to get around.
A cracked sidewalk to you just means hop over it, not that a wheelchair can get caught on it. A building with no elevator means you can get your 10,000 Fitbit steps in, not that you’re going to have to hobble up and down these steps and pray that you don’t forget something downstairs. No nearby parking available could mean you’ll take advantage of ride-sharing apps, or invest in a bicycle or motorcycle. You may complain, but it’s not nearly as strenuous for you to bring groceries or laundry inside if you have to park a block or two away.
Recommended Read: “ADA Checklist for New Lodging Facilities”
Even something as simple as steps going to the laundry room or parking lot are no big deal to you. Run up. Run down. And be on your way. But for seniors, it’s easier to just skip paying for a parking spot altogether and try to find a space in front with less steps to climb. (If they’re not on a lobby floor, that means climbing those mountain of steps in the back area plus the steps to get to the living space.)
I never really took this into consideration with my first three apartments. In all three, I lived on either the lobby floor or the first floor and skipped the elevator 95 percent of the time. What’d I need it for anyway? I’d dropped six pants sizes and happily ran up the pillars or handful of steps to go about my day. Laundry day was the only exception, and even then, sometimes a hip lean and swift walk was less time consuming than waiting for the elevator to arrive.
By the time I moved out of my last apartment, after living there for eight years, and decided to rent a condo, something else had happened. A cousin of mine, in an elevator-less building, wanted her grandmother (my great great aunt) to visit. My great great aunt was in her 80s at that point and just could not make it up and down the steps. Two male cousins of mine tried to carry her, but that whole experience made her skip out on repeat visits. I realized that she would never come to see me in my rental condo on the third floor without elevators. I also started to notice she wasn’t the easy-walking senior I knew and loved. By the time my grandfather started walking with a cane, my mind was reeling. When did my senior relatives become so … old?
Even after finding out the price of purchasing the condo I was renting, I opted out and shopped around for an alternate location. It took me three months and three cancellations to finally find a condo I wanted to purchase. I just wasn’t budging on two things — a parking space (because North Side Chicago parking is not for anyone as impatient as me) and an easy entrance way. Both my great great aunt (at 100) and grandfather (at 95) had passed on before I purchased my home, but my mother had a stroke somewhere in between. And she had trouble going up and down steps after she left the hospital — as in she simply couldn’t figure out the motor skills to do it. I was both relieved and near tears when I coached her up each step of my three-floor condo. By the time she reached the top, she smiled like Adonis Creed after he won the fight against Leo “The Lion” Sporino (and gave “Pretty” Ricky Conlan a run for his money). In that moment though, I realized just how mortal my mother was. In my mind, she may as well have been a vampire.
So before I purchased a condo unit, I was not budging on access for those who are seniors and those with disabilities (even for a short term). For apartment dwellers who don’t plan on living in these places for long, this is rarely a priority unless they are seniors or have disabilities. But when someone who doesn’t depend on ADA compliance shops for a permanent dwelling, it’s important to pay careful attention to how seniors move in and out of the building.
Not only will you want your own relatives and senior friends to visit you, but you should also keep in mind that someday you’ll be them, too. When condo board association meetings come up and simple repairs like concrete lifting, cement pavement, bricklaying and banister repairs are brought up, don’t shrug these off as no big deal. While these may not be top-notch priorities for you and your young, healthy legs, it can be a deal-breaker for other renters and owners who depend on better accessibility. Help them feel as at ease as you do now and in the future.
Would you like to receive Shamontiel’s Weekly Newsletter via MailChimp? Sign up today!