Real Estate, Construction & Renovation – Accessible housing by design

Designing an accessible exterior space


When it comes to designing a house that is safe, welcoming and accessible to everyone, outdoor spaces are just as important as indoor spaces. All too often, however, the exterior spaces of even the most accessible homes are overlooked.

Successfully creating a univer­sally accessible exterior space starts with assessing both the space itself, as well as how you, your family and your friends will use it. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) offers the following tips on how to design an accessible and flex­ible outdoor space that will keep pace with your family’s evolving needs and lifestyle for years to come: If you have a very large lawn or garden, you may want to group some of your favourite elements, such as decks, play spaces, and eating and cooking areas, close to each other and to the main access points of your house. This will help make it easier for people who may have stamina limitations to enjoy your yard, and socialize more comfortably with the rest of your family.

Consider designing a circuit of pathways and seating areas in way that makes it simpler to move about — particularly for people who use mobility devices, have limited sight or who live with dementia. If your garden has multiple levels, consider using a sloped walkway or ramps that are integrated into the overall land­scape design. Ideally, all patios, terraces and seating areas should be accessible and large enough to allow someone who uses a walker or wheelchair to turn around. As a general rule of thumb, people who use walkers, wheelchairs or scooters need pathways that are at least 1,065 mm (42 inches) wide. Where turning is required, provide an area of at least 1,525 x 1,525 mm (60 x 60 inches) for people who use a walker or wheelchair, or 2,100 x 2,100 mm (83 x 83 inches) for scooters and larger wheelchairs.

Avoid plants and trees that drop a great deal of debris, as these can pose a safety issue for people with limited mobility. Protruding or hanging objects can also be dangerous, especially for people with low or reduced vision.

If pruning or trimming chores could pose a challenge, select plant species that won’t be too large for your space, and which require little or no ongoing main­tenance.

To maximize the number of days each year when you can enjoy your yard, consider using trees, porches, gazebos or umbrellas to provide protection from the wind and sun, and make sure stormwa­ter will drain away from your home and any exterior access pathways.

If you’re designing a deck or patio, use the same safety consid­erations you’d use for the inside of your home. For example, make sure the stairs have uniform tread heights and depths, and if you have a large vertical rise, consider installing a lift or a series of ramps.

Last but not least, make sure your outdoor space has sufficient lighting. The right exterior illu­mination will not only enhance safety and visibility, but it can also be used to create atmo­sphere, help people find their way and increase the security of your home.

For over 65 years, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corpor­ation (CMHC) has been Canada’s national housing agency, and a source of object­ive, reliable housing informa­tion.