Home Tips

Updating Your Home with Universal Design

Universal Design is a concept gaining popularity in both public and private spaces.  It offers options for people in their homes and every day use that increases functionality and makes it easier to age in place, without sacrificing style or resale value of the home. These can be small details or part of a major renovation, accomplished with a quick trip to the hardware store or require a call to a contractor.  However large or small, consider the 7 principles  in making your home more comfortable and safe. The term "universal design" was coined by the architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.  Mace, an award winning architect and advocate for people with disabilities, had contracted polio at the age of 9 and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

In 1997 Mace led a group of  architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers at  North Carolina State University in developing the 7 Principles of Universal Design 

  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 Use- 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 and 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 user's body size, posture, or mobility. 

Not all design elements are complicated or expensive.  Small items can  make a big difference. For example, try a when installing a handle on a door, use a lever handle rather than traditional twisting knobs - it can be opened using the elbow or a closed fist, benefiting people carrying shopping bags as well as people with limited strength in their hands. Light switches with large flat panels rather than small toggle switches are easy to use. You can easily find and install buttons and other controls that can be distinguished by touch or bright colors for people with reduced vision.  And speaking of vision, invest in brighter and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting, such as a bright lamp on a counter.  Keep clear lines of sight with rooms to reduce dependence on sound for people with hearing loss. 

For the entrance to a room, wide doorways are good for people who need assistance, walk with a device, as well as for carrying a child or pushing a stroller. Pocket doors which slide allow for more space and keep the space around the door clear.

If you were renovating a kitchen, consider getting a wall oven, which makes it easier to lift without bending.  There are also cabinets with pull-out shelves, kitchen counters at several heights to accommodate different tasks and postures. There are useful, inexpensive everyday items for the kitchen, too .

In the bathroom, consider changing the faucets to a lift handle, putting in a wide shower door or a “comfort height” toilet.  All can be done to look good while adding function and safety. Replace the spring-coil toilet paper holders with one using a lift mechanism. A few creative TP holders are also built to function as grab bars.

If you want to work on one area to make small changes to your residence,  focus on:

Entry ways - Have a bench or table outside the entrance you use most frequently to make it easy to put down bags and packages while you open the door Fewer steps.  For larger projects, think of wider doorways, increased lighting, and slope the garage floor to the house entry with a level threshold

Outside space - shield porch from the weather, create a stepless, level grade at the entrance, Use sloping walks and landscaping instead of obtrusive frontramps.  Add pathway lighting ona  light sensor or timer to help you and guests navigate the approach to the house/  There are solar charged versions that can just be inserted in the grass.  

AARP Homefit

AARP has several tools and publications for maintaining your home and making it fit your changing needs as you age.  

Down load these: https://search.aarp.org/gss/everywhere?q=homefit%20guide

Fall Checklist: https://search.aarp.org/gss/everywhere?q=homefit%20guide

The AARP Homefit Guide 
from  https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/housing/info-2020/homefit-guide.html

America’s housing stock doesn’t fit a rapidly changing and rapidly aging population. That’s where the AARP HomeFit Guide comes in.

  • The 36-page, fully-illustrated guide is about homes not houses. Most of the more than 100 tips and suggestions in this room-by-room guide are doable regardless of housing type (single-family house, apartment, mobile home, etc.) or ownership status (owner, renter).

  • The guide was created to help people live safely and comfortably by enabling where they live to be a “lifelong home,” suitable for themselves and others in their household, no matter a person’s age or life stage.

  • The guide can help individuals and families make their current or future residence — or that of a loved one — “aging-friendly.”

  • The guide can help elected officials, policymakers and local leaders learn about and advocate for the housing options that communities need, so residents of all ages can live safely and comfortably — and thrive.

You can order a hard copy by going to the AARP link above or download a copy by clicking here: Homefit Guide