Accessibility differences between Visitable, Handicap, and the ADA Bart Binning, Ed. D.

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“Accessibility differences between Visitable, Handicap, and the ADA”

Bart Binning, Ed. D.

As I transition into becoming “elderly” (which I define as surviving four strokes and being prescribed a life-style restricting blood thinner like Eliquis), I find myself being much more retrospective.  For example, I now recognize that there are differences between Disability (the metal or physical limitations a person has as defined by the Americans with Disability Act or ADA), Handicap (the disadvantage one experiences because of a disability), and Visitable (a subset of handicap dealing with the disadvantages associated with old age, which may or may not be covered by the ADA).

Before we begin a discussion of handicap vs. visitable, we should have a brief review of

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in everyday activities.[1]

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who:

  • has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, Some examples include:
    • Actions like eating, sleeping, speaking, and breathing
    • Movements like walking, standing, lifting, and bending
    • Cognitive functions like thinking and concentrating
    • Sensory functions like seeing and hearing
    • Tasks like working, reading, learning, and communicating
    • The operation of major bodily functions like circulation, reproduction, and individual organs
  • has a history or record of such an impairment (such as cancer that is in remission), or
  • is perceived by others as having such an impairment (such as a person who has scars from a severe burn).


The last time ADA design standards for construction were published by the Justice Department was in 2010[2].  It is my observation that those ADA standards delt generally with making the built environment easily accessible to the younger people with disabilities in the community, who wanted to be relatively self-sufficient, and not the elderly who may or may not have a disability as defined by the ADA. Because the ADA is a legal concept, compliance tends to be proscriptive in nature.

In contrast, the term Visitable Accessible is more concerned with ways to make the build environment more convenient for an increasingly cohort of people exhibit some impairments that result from age, as well as impairments from a disability.  While a disability is couched in the language of civil rights protections, growing old does not have those same protections from government.

When discussing the implementation of Visitable Accessibility, it is in addition to the requirements of ADA, and can be thought of as Acceptable Design accommodations for the elderly and others with similar impairments.  These accommodations are conveniences which might include features like grab bars, knee spaces under counters, or benches for resting in long hallways.  Adaptable spaces can conceal or omit certain items to better match individual preferences or needs. [3]

Some examples: The ADA proscriptively describes handicap parking spaces, both by number and width (60 inches wide for cars and 132 inches wide for vans). Handicap parking spaces should be located as close as possible to the building’s accessible entrances to ensure convenience and minimize travel distance for individuals with mobility impairments.

Many people who are handicapped or elderly use wheelchairs or walkers.  The ADA proscriptively calls for wheelchair space in large auditoriums at a rate of about 1 space for every 150 seats, with an accompanying companion seat.  The ADA proscriptively calls for at least 5% of aisle seats to have retractable or folding armrests.

To make a space more Visitable, wheelchair spaces might be dispersed throughout the venue rather than clumped together in a single location, allowing varied sight lines.  Associated companion seats should allow companions to sit alongside wheelchair users, ensuring shoulder-to-shoulder alignment. To accommodate those with mobility challenges who use canes or walkers, additional seats should facilitate entry and exit and there should be spaces to easily store walkers or canes.

For people with mobility challenges, ensure that the ground surface is stable and free from tripping hazards.  For the elderly who may have reduced stamina or balance problems, consider providing additional amenities such as benches in long hallways, and covered shaded areas near parking spaces, and walkways.

Place Visitable-accessible seats near restrooms, concessions, and other amenities. Proximity to these facilities enhances convenience.

Consider making parking more visitable by placing Visitable accessible loading zones near building entrances with benches adjacent to the drop-off points.  Design drop-off points to minimize congestion and allow for efficient traffic flow, recognizing that removing a walker or a wheelchair will take more time to unload.  Train valet attendants to assist both handicap and Visitable passengers with unloading belongings, opening doors, and guiding individuals to the building entrance.

In conclusion, being cognizant of the various classes of accessibility in the built environment benefits not only people with disabilities but also others, such as older adults, those with temporary injuries, and even parents with strollers.  It reflects a commitment to social responsibility and can lead to a broader customer base with associated economic benefits as generational cohorts age through the challenges of different stages-of-life.

[1]     Introduction to the Americans with Disabilities Act | downloaded 4.29.24

[2]     2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design |  downloaded 4.29.24

[3] Research with Microsoft CoPilot 4/19/2024


1 Comments for : Accessibility differences between Visitable, Handicap, and the ADA Bart Binning, Ed. D.
    • Nancy Hyde
    • May 13, 2024

    Very interesting article. Thank you for sharing this information.

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