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Lifestyle & General Interest

What Is Universal Design for Homes?


Universal design is a concept that aims to create products, environments, and spaces that are accessible and usable by everyone, regardless of their age, abilities, or disabilities. When it comes to homes, universal design principles can be applied to make them comfortable and safe for all.

One group of people who can benefit greatly from universal design in homes are those who are aging in place. As people grow older, they may experience physical limitations and mobility issues that make it difficult to carry out daily activities. Universal design features in the home can make life easier for older adults by reducing the risk of falls and injuries, improving accessibility, and promoting independence.

Principles of Universal Design

These seven principles of universal design aim to create products, environments, and spaces accessible for everyone:

  • Equitable use: The design should be useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. This can take many forms, such as ensuring that features like door handles are easy to operate for people with different levels of strength or dexterity.
  • Flexibility in use: The design should accommodate various individual preferences and abilities, including providing customizable options such as adjustable-height countertops.
  • Simple and intuitive use: The design should be easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. This can look like using clear signage throughout the home.
  • Perceptible information: The design should communicate necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. For instance, you may use bright or contrasting colors on edges to make them easier to see.
  • Tolerance for error: The design should minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions; things like non-slip surfaces can help with this.
  • Low physical effort: The design should be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue. This can include installing lever-style door handles or touch faucets in sinks.
  • Size and space for approach and use: Appropriate size and space are provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility. This includes ensuring rooms have enough room for wheelchair access.

By incorporating these principles into the design of a home, it becomes possible to create a safe and easy-to-use environment for everyone who lives there.

How Universal Design Can Enhance Accessibility

Universal accessibility design elements make it easier for people of all abilities to move around and engage with their environment. This means from toddlers to older adults, everyone can have the same level of access to a home.

Wider Doorways

Wider doorways are a key feature of universal design that can greatly enhance accessibility in the home. For wheelchair users and individuals with limited mobility, wider doorways can make it easier to move around the house and access different rooms.

Though widths vary depending on the space and type of door, standard doorways can range from 24 to 32 inches wide — and if a doorway is on the narrower side, a wheelchair can’t pass through comfortably. Increasing the width of openings to at least 32 inches makes it possible for someone using a standard-sized wheelchair to navigate easily. Sometimes, wider doorways may be necessary if the individual uses a larger or motorized wheelchair.

Wider doorways also benefit those using mobility aids such as walkers or crutches. They provide more space to maneuver these devices, making it easier for individuals with limited mobility to enter and exit rooms.

Bathroom and Kitchen Modifications

Modifying bathrooms and kitchens can greatly enhance accessibility in the home, making it easier for individuals with mobility challenges or disabilities to perform daily tasks independently. Here are some ways to modify these spaces:

  • Wheelchair-accessible shower: A curbless entry with a sloped floor for easier access and a handheld showerhead and bench seat in the shower to increase safety and independence;
  • bars: Bars next to the toilet, bathtub, and shower to provide stability and support;
  • Toilet height: A taller toilet to make it easier for individuals with limited mobility to sit down and stand up.

Designing an accessible bathroom requires careful consideration of layout, fixtures, lighting, and other factors. Some key considerations include providing ample maneuvering space for wheelchairs, ensuring that fixtures are within reach from seated positions, using non-slip flooring materials, and maximizing natural light.

Likewise, kitchen modifications can make it easier for individuals with disabilities to prepare meals independently. These can include:

  • Adjustable height counters;
  • Pull-out shelves;
  • Lever handles;
  • Non-slip flooring.

These modifications can help create a safe and accessible kitchen environment for individuals of all abilities.

Lever Handles on Doors

Lever handles on doors are becoming increasingly popular due to their ease of use and accessibility benefits. Unlike traditional door knobs that require twisting or gripping, lever handles can be operated with a simple push-down or upward motion. This makes them incredibly helpful for individuals with limited hand strength, such as older adults or those with disabilities.

Lever handles also reduce the need for individuals to use their hands directly, which can help prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. This feature has become even more valuable in a world where hygiene is more important than ever.

Adjustable Height Counters

Adjustable height counters and other adjustable features in the home can make a significant difference for individuals with physical impairments. These features are designed to accommodate people of different heights and abilities, making reaching countertops, sinks, and other areas of the home easier.

For example, adjustable height counters can be raised or lowered depending on the individual's needs. This is particularly helpful for wheelchair users needing a lower counter height to use their kitchen or bathroom sink comfortably. Similarly, adjustable shelves and cabinets can be moved up or down so that items are within easy reach.

These features promote independence and self-sufficiency. When individuals can easily access items in their homes without assistance from others, they feel more empowered and confident in their abilities.

Tips for Incorporating Universal Design Elements into Your Home

Here are some tips on how to incorporate these elements into your home:

  • Focus on accessibility: Consider not only the needs of individuals with disabilities but also those with limited mobility.
  • Plan for mobility: Create wide pathways and hallways that allow easy movement throughout the house.
  • Choose easy-to-use features: This includes rocker switches instead of traditional light switches, motion-sensor lighting, and touchless faucets.
  • Use contrasting colors: Use colors that stick out from each other to help individuals with low vision better navigate their surroundings.
  • Create multi-functional spaces: Incorporate spaces that can be used for various activities, such as a bedroom that doubles as an office or a living room with space for exercise equipment.

Making these changes may require renovations or modifications to your existing home, but they will ultimately make it more accessible and functional for everyone who lives there or visits.

Beyond this, consider the following tips for implementing these modifications.

Talk to an Expert

It's wise to talk to an expert, such as a home remodeling specialist or occupational therapist, who can work with you on incorporating accessible design into your home. They will be able to provide valuable insight and advice on how best to create an accessible environment that meets the needs of all its occupants.

Research Products

There are various products available on the market that can help make your home more accessible such as wheelchair ramps, lifts and carriers, and stair lifts. Research different products to discover their features and how they might work in your home.

Consider Your Needs and Budget

When making changes to your home, it's important to consider your needs and budget. Ensure you understand the costs associated with any modifications you're considering before making any decisions. Additionally, exploring grants or other funding sources may help offset the cost of these renovations.

A few tips to help budget include:

  • Research prices of different products and materials you'll need for your home modifications.
  • Look for discounts on products or services related to accessible design.
  • Invest in quality materials that can save money in the long run as they will be more durable and last longer.
  • Get creative and look for ways to save money without sacrificing quality.

For example, you can repurpose existing furniture or use items from second-hand stores.

Start With Small Changes

Making life easier doesn't always have to mean a big renovation. Often, making small changes can add up and make a big difference in accessibility. For example, consider swapping out traditional door handles with lever-style ones, adding an adjustable showerhead, or installing grab bars in the bathroom for added stability.

Universal design is an important concept to consider when creating any home. With the right planning, research, and budgeting, you can create a safe and welcoming home environment that meets all its occupants' needs.

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