Why choose universal design?
The fact is, you already use universal design and you may not realize it.
Any time you ride your bicycle over a lowered curb; any time you rely on a “talking” elevator to tell you when to get off; any time you walk through an over-sized revolving door; any time you reach for a lever rather than a round door knob.
A universally designed interior HAS BEEN CONCEIVED to ACCOMMODATE EVERYONE
More and more, universal design is creeping into our everyday lives, making things a little bit easier for everyone and, like the best types of design, few people will notice.
The senior population explosion
You’ve heard of the “baby boom” generation; those of us who, according to economists, were born at the end of World War II, a time when reunited husbands and wives created a population explosion. Those of us in our mid-to-late Fifties represent the last of that demographic.
In a 2005 housing survey, 83 percent of people age 45 and older plan to live in their current homes for as long as it is possible. But almost one in four expect that they, or someone in their family, will have trouble getting around that home within the next five years.
Most homes in North America are more than 20-years-old. As these buildings age along with their residents, they can become more difficult to live in, and to maintain. A home that is suitable to an able-bodied 55-year-old may have too many stairs or hard-to-reach areas for a 70-year-old.
Universal design recognizes that people’s abilities, and therefore their needs, change over the course of their lives.
It uses ergonomic principles, which are designs to minimize physical effort and discomfort and maximize efficiency, to increase efficiency, reduce repetitive stress to the body, and eliminate barriers and hazards. All this promotes safety, independence and dignity.
Many features that are considered accessible and adaptable are also universally usable. For example, round doorknobs are inappropriate for people with limited use of their hands, but lever handles are usable by everyone, including people who have no hands.
An ordinary device can be used universally simply by placing it in a more practical way to meet everyone’s needs. For example, lowering light switches and raising outlets to 18-inches (46 cm) above the floor places them within reach of most people without the need to bend or stretch. Bathtub controls located toward the side of the tub, rather than the center, provide the same benefit.
Since universal design offers many advantages, it’s curious why it isn’t a standard in home design today.
Unfortunately, many architects, builders and contractors still resist the concept thinking that it adds to costs and detracts from a home’s appearance.
In fact, today’s homes that adapt universal features look no different than neighboring homes and are usually no more expensive.
Designing-in flexibility can increase a home’s marketability, particularly to seniors and people with disabilities. This market will become increasingly important over the next 30 years as the “over 65” population increases from 12 percent to more than 20 percent.
In most cases, home modifications can be simple and cost-effective, while simultaneously offering substantial benefits to any individual.
Modifications that require retrofitting – modifying an older type to a newer or better version – will be costlier, usually because the installation is more complex. These types of modifications may include ramps, personal care facilities, cabinet modifications, a stairlift, or a residential elevator.
In new construction or when undergoing a major renovation, many helpful modifications can be made at little to no cost.
When was the last time you walked through an automatic door and thought: “These doors are great because they operate for everyone, regardless of their mobility!”?
Or, the last time you were in a parking garage and the one and only elevator was out of service, did you wonder how anyone living with limited mobility was going to get up that flight of stairs? How about a Mom pushing a twin stroller, and guiding a toddler? Every person in a household can benefit from some type of modifications that will make the home safer for everyone.
A reduction in any one of three health issues will potentially limit an individual’s safety and comfort, and limit their ability to navigate the average home.
A Environment that suits every body
As I begin my sexagenarian years, long gone are the days when I would think nothing of running up 10 flights of stairs when the building’s elevator was too busy. Today, I am more likely to give myself extra time so that I can politely wait until a clear opportunity presents itself. Just like the rest of the world, I am aging and my physical abilities are slowly changing, and there is little I can do about it, but what I can do, I will!
When an able-bodied individual goes out for a walk in the city, they would rightfully expect to find the sidewalks smooth and easy to traverse, fully operational traffic lights equipped with pedestrian signals, well-lit streets, and any overt dangers, like electrical wires, high out of reach or below ground.
That person might enjoy window shopping, sight-seeing, or stopping at a kiosk for an ice cream cone on a warm day.
That same privilege should be extended to everyone, regardless of any physical or mental limitation, whether temporary or situational. Anyone should be able to enjoy the outdoors without the fear of putting themselves in harm’s way; without the worry of getting lost or stranded, and without the need of depending on someone else to help them.
Frankly, I welcome anything that allows me to do boring, but necessary things faster; that allows me to keep pace with everyone else; that doesn’t draw attention to my limitations, and; that generally makes my life easier.
Although it has been around for almost 20 years, consumers are slow to embrace the concepts, despite the proven fact that universally-designed products, and features that have been incorporated into our built environment, make things more efficient, more practical and safer for all of us.
Universal design is not specifically about adapting a home for wheelchair accessibility, nor is it about adapting a home for any specific human limitation. It is equally directed at anyone that may want to create a more hospitable space for themselves, or that of a loved one, as it is for someone who wants a little more breathing room.
Throughout the home, features can be installed and adapted, or area functions can be redesigned or relocated so that it can be made safer, easier to use and more practical for everybody and every body. Using the principles of universal design as a guideline is the first step.
There are two primary reasons to incorporate universal design features in a home. One is to meet an immediate need, such as accommodating a senior or someone with a disability; the other is to plan a home that will fit your needs now and in the future.
When the need is immediate, planning is often done quickly, without adequate research or time to work it into a budget. Working under pressure can also result in the need to later correct mistakes.
When planning with specific needs in mind, universal design can add less than 3 percent to the cost of a home if it is incorporated during initial design and construction.
Some retrofitted improvements can cost up to 20 times more than the same features included in the original construction.
Creative thinking can go a long way in saving money. Widening an exterior door opening can cost between $500 and $1,000, but if only a little more space is needed, a $30 set of special door hinges can provide an extra two inches or so.