I was out shopping with my mom this weekend. She has difficulty walking and uses handicap parking spaces to make it easier to get into stores. We drove to two different stores and parked in a handicap space each time. Both stores had design issues with the placement of the handicap spaces and landscape beds. Good design would have prevented this scenario and made life easier for all those using the parking space. What design issues have you seen that could improve life for everyone?
Proper planning for buildings reduce the need for future renovations, extend the service life of buildings, and make it possible for people of all abilities to have access and function. When designing for accessibility the results often focus on wheelchair use in a building. These are limiting strategies that don’t work for most people and even do not work for many in wheelchairs. Universal Design on the other hand has a more holistic approach that focuses on all abilities rather than specific disabilities. UD allows easy navigation by everyone, regardless of age, height, eyesight, mobility, and dexterity.
UD is encouraged by those wanting a home that lasts a lifetime. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey, 73% of adults 45 and older wish to stay in their current residence as long as possible. However, fewer than half have basic accommodations for universal design in their homes.
Good planning for Universal Design prior to construction incorporates many strategies into a home that will reduce future renovations. Strategies to focus on include:
Open Floor Plans – with fewer walls, there are fewer corners or narrow passageways to navigate.
Adjustable workspace heights – Conventional heights are simply done “because that is the way we always do it”. Having a variety of work surfaces allows for kids to work in the kitchen, someone in a wheelchair to comfortably make dinner, or someone taller than average to work without bending over.
No-step entryways – From the front door to room to room transitions, having a home with no steps allows easy transitions for moving in a stroller to a wheelchair.
Doors with lever handles – Another strategy to make life easier. A lever handle will allow you to open a door with your elbow if your hands are full or with arthritis.
Roll in Shower – Having a shower that does not require a step to get into makes it safer to use on a daily basis.
Although it is impossible to plan for every future possible, planning for easy access will make your building more livable for a lifetime. Here is a longer checklist of items to include (click here). In Virginia, there is a tax credit that helps with incorporating these strategies (click here).
What is an Easy Living Home? Yes, another certification, this one is intended to encourage builders and home owners of single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes to include Easy Living Home features in the design and construction of new homes.
Easy Living Home design features make a home more livable for homeowners and visitors with any ability. Whether you are dealing with strollers, carrying in groceries, dealing with a broken ankle, or moving in that new refrigerator these features benefit the ease of use of your home.
Easy Living Home features include, but are not limited to the following:
Easy Access – step-free entrance from a driveway, sidewalk, or other firm route into the central living area.
Easy Passage – Exterior doors that provide access is one thing, but once you get into the home you need to be able to get around. Installing at least a 2′-10″ door to the key rooms of your home make it possible to get around the home.
Easy Use – the main floor should be designed as an open plan with a first floor bedroom and full bathroom.
1. Equitable Use – The design is useful and marketable to people with any ability. (Who wants to have to bend down to find that missing sock, make things easier for everyone)
2. Flexibility of Use – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. (Grab bars don’t have to look institutional)
3. Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or education level. (a programmable thermostat that learns your patterns)
4. Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. (design should allow everyone to feel comfortable)
5. Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. (don’t get burned by hot water or let your kids get burned)
6. Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue. (Ever wanted to sit down for a bit after a long day while starting dinner prep)
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use – Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. (Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to move that furniture around the room, up the stairs, or out the door without taking out a window)
When you design a home it should be for people of any ability. You will not incorporate every aspect of universal design into every home, but you do the best you are able with every project. The idea of designing your home now for what might happen is difficult for most people to imagine. Universal Design is a concept that has been around for years, but has only gotten a little attention until recently. The limitation to the idea has been the misconception that you are designing a home for a disability. The reality is that Universal Design is not about disability, but rather the idea of designing homes for any ability. Who would not want a more convenient home? Who does not want to bend less, step less, or stretch less to accomplish our everyday tasks? Check out this builder’s checklist of principles of Universal Design for your home and see where you stack up. This is the most comprehensive list I have found anywhere.
We are working on the design of a new multi-family project specifically for seniors in Charlottesville named Timberlake Place. This project pays close attention to accessibility of spaces to make the design as functional as possible to people of all abilities. This design approach has been called ‘universal design’, ‘design for a lifetime’, or ‘easy living design’. Regardless of the name, it is just common sense design that should be incorporated into every building and home being built today.
There are seven principles to get you started:
1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities
2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities
3. Simple and Intuitive: The use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level
4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities
5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions
6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
As you can see from the list above, these design approaches make the home / business easier to use for everyone from child to elderly. If your home is designed with these principles in mind, you will be able to use your home with a sports injury, broken bone, or just carrying in the groceries.
Guest Post from Todd Hawkins of Builder Fish. BuilderFish™ specializes in Universal Design (UD) to help everyone, particularly older Americans and people with disabilities, enjoy independence, comfort, ease and longevity in their homes. Class A general contractor Jonathan Fishbeck is designated Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist by the AARP® and NAHB. They define “recycle your house” as going beyond “green” building to include preparing the house to accommodate multiple life stages and unforeseen circumstances so the home is convenient and safe for people of all ages and abilities. Energy conservation is an important component of Universal Design because features which conserve energy, prevent waste and save money contribute to core principles of UD promoting efficiency and safety.
Recently we were asked about a tub-to-shower conversion. Typically we recommend an all tile solution using linear drains(Drains don’t always have to be in the middle of the floor. QuickDrain USA’s brochure shows numerous solutions worth reviewing.)
Concerned about cost, the owner asked about ADA compliant shower inserts, also known as curb-less, roll-in or flush threshold showers. I’ll emphasize that custom tile work isn’t necessarily a budget buster, depends on what you select, but there are alternatives including this shower base from Delta with a built-in trench drain.
Why is it important to avoid a curbed (standard) shower? Even a half inch rise poses a significant obstacle to someone with impaired mobility. The safest bet is a roll-in shower with water directed to an edge.
Before leaving this topic, I want to point out something about the fixtures Delta has branded as Smart Solutions. What they’re labeling “smart features”, like touch and motion activated faucets and multi-flow, trigger activated wands are universally designed. Since the mention of UD usually results in a blank stare, companies are trying new ways to describe and promote to consumers.
In fact, I’m now using “lifetime design” more instead of Universal Design. Do you think that makes more sense? Please reply to this blog entry to give me your opinion about what “lifetime design” means to you. Regardless of what we call it, UD is already becoming the standard in new and remodeled homes because it’s simpler and convenient. Who doesn’t prefer easier?