Universal Design for Seniors with Disabilities

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We hear all the time about the “graying” of America, as Baby Boomers get set to retire. And these Baby Boomers, for the most part, plan to stay put in their own homes. In fact, a recent AARP survey examining the opinions of Americans over the age of 45 on current and future housing situations found that the majority plans to stay in their current residence for as long as possible.

Combine this information with the Center for Disease Control’s findings that falls are the leading cause of injury deaths among people 65 years and older and 60% of these fatal falls happen at home, and it is no wonder that there is a growing trend among homebuilders and remodelers to create “universal design” living spaces.

Universal design homes need to accommodate occupants with decreased health, vision, mobility, hearing, dexterity and income. There are a number of ways that new houses can be designed, or existing houses can be remodeled, to make life easier for people with such limitations, whether they be elderly or a teenager with a ski injury. And the bonus is that such modifications usually make the home more comfortable for everyone. The concept of universal design works for all.

Most issues related to universal design fit into one of three categories: convenience, safety/health, and economy. Designs for convenience include anything that makes life easier, such as automatic garage door openers, lighted switches, lever handles for doors and faucets, wheelchair ramps, home elevators and stair lifts, wider halls and doors, intercom systems, taller toilets, openings without raised thresholds (including shower stalls), among many others.

Safety considerations include adjusting water temperature to avoid scalding injuries, good lighting, installation of smoke detectors, placement of handrails and grab-bars, removal of slippery throw rugs and generally reducing clutter and obstacles.

*Universally Designed Homes generally include:*

* No-step entries. A universal home has no stairs leading into the home or between the home’s main rooms.

* One-story living. All living spaces are located on one, barrier-free level.

* Wide doorways. 32-36 doorways make it easier for wheelchairs to pass through and also make moving big items in and out of the house much simpler.

* Wide hallways. Hallways in a universal home are 36-42 inches wide. This allows for easier movement throughout the house.
Extra floor space. Added floor space affords individuals in wheelchairs more space for turning and helps everyone feel less cramped.

* Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces. This safety measure is helpful for everyone.

* Handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms. Makes climbing steps and bathing safer and more convenient.

* Thresholds that are flush with the floor. These make it easy for a wheelchair to get through a doorway and keep others from tripping.

* Good lighting. Appropriate lighting helps everyone see better, including those with poor vision.

* Lever door handles and rocker light switches. Easy to use knobs and switches are great for people with poor hand strength and are convenient for others too.

_Adapted from the Universal Design section of the AARP’s website at: http://www.aarp.org/life/homedesign/Articles/a2004-03-23-whatis_univdesign.html_

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