Since 1991 and the introduction of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), public buildings have been designed to provide easy access to those with disabilities. This includes more than simply proving wheelchair access.
While the ADA focuses mainly on the civil rights of people with disabilities, what about residential buildings and single family homes? As Baby Boomers approach retirement age, many people are looking for a design solutions to make their homes more easily accessible. Perhaps a spouse uses a walker or wheelchair or has difficulty opening cabinets and doors.
What is Universal Design?
Ronald L. Mace, founder of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University the term Universal Design in 1997. Along with architects, product designers, engineers and environmental designers, Mace developed the Seven Principles of Universal Design.
“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” NAHB.org
Seven Principles of Universal Design (from UniversalDesign.com)
- Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
- Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
- 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.
- Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
- Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
- Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.
- 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.
The Benefits of Universal Design
How do the Seven Principles of Universal Design translate into practical use in your home? Consider the specific needs of seniors or of those who require the assistance of a health care worker or people who use a walker.
The primary goals of Universal Design in a residential home are: easy access and safety. However, this design style also provides plenty of open space and functionality for everyone.
Keep all of the important rooms, such as the kitchen, eating areas, bathroom, and bedroom all on one floor to avoid the need for climbing stairs.
No-step entry into the home and thresholds that are flush with the floor will allow for easy movement for a wheelchair and helps others to avoid tripping.
Wide entryways and doorways inside the home should measure between 32 – 36 inches wide. This will allow plenty of room for a person using a walker, crutches or wheelchair to more freely. It will also make it easy to move large things such as a convalescent bed into the home.
Hallways and passages should be at least 36 – 42 inches wide to allow enough space for wheelchairs to turn.
Install flooring and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces, as well as handrails on steps and grab bars: Carpeting or some tile flooring make it difficult for wheelchairs and walkers to move. Wood floors, linoleum, and another type of smooth flooring. This is helpful for not only seniors but for families with young children.
Install lever door handles and rocker light switches for people with authorities or limited hand strength.
The average home presents many obstacles for seniors, people with a long term illness or even a broken leg. Entryways stairs and flooring are only a few of the many issues your family may face. Universal design may help you some of these issues.