Allen Mankewich accomplished a rare feat this week: without assistance, he rolled his wheelchair through the front door of a stranger's home. There are few homes in Winnipeg that he can enter with ease.
"It's an awesome feeling. It's not something that I experience very often," he said. "The only people I visit are my parents, who have a ramp in front of their house, and that's pretty much it at this point."
The home in question belongs to Kevin and Cathy Davis, who chose a design offered in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods in the southwest end of Winnipeg.
The design includes a level entry into the house, a main-floor bathroom that can be used with a mobility device, and wider doorways and hallways on the main floor — three key features of "visitable" housing.
At the time of the build, Cathy Davis was just coming off of an injury that required crutches. She said she spent five months trying to navigate their previous multi-level home.
"I basically spent those five months scootching up and down the stairs," she said.
"We thought, you know, we're not getting any younger and things are probably going to change, mobility-wise, down the road, so let's build a house that we can live in for a really long time."
The Davises are one of the families Mankewich consulted in his work for the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies. In 2014, the centre did a case study on the Bridgwater neighbourhoods to better understand the construction of visitable homes and gauge the satisfaction of home buyers in the area.
Because Manitoba Housing Renewal Corp. is acting as the developer in the Bridgwater neighbourhoods, it was able to assign a mandate for the homes. Fifty per cent of the builds are visitable housing.
Visitable features benefit more than the disabled
The benefits of visitable housing can extend beyond those who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs.
"The amount of times in the old house when you forget something and you're running up two flights of stairs, it's just so nice to have everything you actually need to get through a day on the same level," said Kevin Davis.
"If you built a house that already had all the specs built in and didn't designate it as anything other than, 'This is your house build,' you would find that there is a lot of everyday benefits," added Cathy Davis.
"There's no front steps — it's just a grade straight up from the sidewalk into the landing, so if you had a stroller, you just wheel right in to the house."
Visitable housing does come at a cost to the developer, mainly due to the drainage requirements. When the main floor of a home is built at ground level, the developer must grade the lot in a way that directs water away from the home and the other properties around it.
For a consumer looking at a home in the $400,000 range, visitable features will add a few thousand dollars.
"Your main floor has to be the height of the garage before you can put bedrooms above the garage area, so it is increasing the height of the main floor walls [that] is your largest cost," said Kevin Braun, vice-president of Qualico Developments.
"The other cost will come in the waterproofing of the foundation because they are basically at grade at the front of the home."
Mankewich said there's a lot of resistance in the construction industry, and for this reason he wants to see visitable housing features included in Winnipeg's building codes, regardless of the extra costs.
The price tag has immeasurable value to those who use a mobility device, he said.
"From a social inclusion standpoint, often people with disabilities are left out of family gatherings, parties with their friends, that kind of thing," said Mankewich.
"Whether you're an eight-year-old kid trying to go to your friend's birthday party or an adult with a physical disability and you're going to a sibling's or whoever's place for Christmas dinner, it affects you across the lifespan if you have a mobility issue."