Can Universal Design Help Create The House Of Your Future?

Updated on October 11, 2022

A recent series for National Public Radio (NPR) on Aging-in-Place highlighted the benefits of Universal Design and how it can enhance one’s home and facilitate remaining living safely and independently. The segment entitled, “Aging: Universal Design,” focused on the growing trend of elderly people wanting to remain in their homes despite illness and/or disability, and how homes can be modified to adapt to meet physical challenges. The online coverage of this report featured this link to Universal Designers & Consultants’ (UD&C’s) “Home for the Next 50 Years”—a showcase for how Universal Design can be applied to an existing home to make it more livable, and thereby extending its life for the homeowners.

Imagine building a house when you’re young that you can live in as you age. For example, wide doorways can accommodate both a stroller and a wheelchair; towel racks in the kitchen double as grab bars when one’s balance grows unsteady; and entryways can be made smooth to prevent tripping. Builders incorporate these concepts of Universal Design to create homes that are barrier-free, without looking purposely modified.

 Please visit this link to take a tour of a home designed to be accessible to all. Click on each modification to see a photo of the following Universal Design ideas:

  • Universally Designed doors are a few inches wider than standard doors—and at least one entrance to a Universally Designed home is flat, with no steps. This not only eases entry for those in wheelchairs, it also allows them to get out fast in an emergency. Flat entries are also helpful for parents with strollers.
  • Universally Designed kitchens are wheelchair friendly—with wide aisles, low counters, and appliances—yet they look straight out of a glossy home design magazine.
  • Sleek towel racks in Universally Designed kitchens can also double as grab bars.
  • Universally Designed kitchen shelves pull out like drawers for easy access. Amenities like this may be especially useful for the disabled and elderly, but they have wide crossover appeal for anyone who doesn’t like to bend over and scrounge around for hard-to-reach items.
  • Water faucets over Universally Designed stovetops keep cooks from having to lug a heavy pot of water from the sink. This can be handy even for those with just a touch of arthritis.
  • Universally Designed water heaters are raised off the ground at a height that is easily adjustable.
  • Universally Designed showers have smooth entries and are easier to get in and out of. Also, the floor is angled just enough to prevent water from seeping into the rest of the bathroom.
  • As with door handles, Universally Designed shower valves have a lever design—and they are easier to turn than traditional knobs. This is because a large majority of elderly people have some form of dexterity problem.
  • Universally Designed bathroom sinks have grab bars, plus space underneath so that someone in a wheelchair can roll right up.
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