Implementing Universal Design in Your Home
As we grow older and our physical abilities change, our living spaces sometimes need modifications to help us function, prevent falls and stay independent so we can “age in place” in our homes.
Through a design approach called Universal Design, or UD, we can make our homes more accessible, operational and safe.
UD often involves simple, small changes that can make huge differences. For example, retrofitting a home using UD can be as easy as changing lighting to reduce glare, installing wall-to-wall carpet, putting up two handrails on staircases or making thresholds smooth. Such changes actually benefit everyone and make living easier and more secure for people of all ages and abilities, from toddlers to seniors.
Universal Design sometimes can call for more involved remodeling, like making a barrier-free bathroom with a walk-in tub or roll-in shower. Creating a more accessible kitchen may include appliances at lower heights and cabinets with roll-out shelves and handles rather than knobs. These UD elements are a bigger investment but are still less expensive and less disruptive than having to move from home to an assisted living or care facility. Retrofitting a home using UD also can be done gradually as your budget allows and on an “as needed” basis.
If you are building a home, you are in a great position to incorporate UD options into your new space such as wider hallways for wheelchairs or walkers, lower light switches, higher electrical outlets and blocks behind walls to accommodate grab bars if they are needed later. The cost of incorporating UD into the design of a new home is minimal while having UD throughout the house can add great value for resale.
Interior designers and homebuilders who are Certified Aging in Place (CAP) specialists can help you decide which Universal Design elements to bring into your current home or to add to your new home’s blueprints.
Universal Design Options That Can Make Life Easier
Lights that turn on when you approach your home
No-glare lights for general lighting and task lighting
Rails on both sides of stairs
Raised electric outlets
Lowered rocker light switches
Remote-controlled lighting, window blinds and other home systems
Drawers instead of cabinets in kitchen
D-shaped cabinet and drawer pulls
Wall-to-wall carpet rather than throw rugs
Wires neatly managed, off floors
Grab bars by toilets and in showers
Hand-held shower heads on glides
Non-slip, low-maintenance floors in bathrooms
Kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and laundry on one floor
Raised or lowered dishwasher
Flat cooktop with front controls
Stoves and sinks with open space underneath for someone seated
Separate, comfort-height wall oven
Varied counter heights so cooks can sit or stand
Beveled corners on counters, furniture and walls
Raised, front-load, front-control washer and dryer
36-inch-wide doorways and hallways to accommodate wheelchairs
Universal Design Resources
- The RL Mace Universal Design Institute
The National Aging In Place Council
AARP’s HomeFit Guide
- USC Leonard Davis’ School of Gerontology’s Interactive Website
- University at Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access
- Certified Aging in Place (CAP) Specialist Directory in the National Association of Home Builders