The term Universal Design was created to replace “Aging In Place”. This term carried a stigma of institutional bathrooms and being old. Aging in place was considered something you only needed to think about when you were older. On the contrary, the practices that are the foundation of Universal Design are wise to be considered at any age. When you Google Universal Design it says, “The design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all regardless of age, disability or other factors”.
Although we may be quick to think of seniors needing these considerations there is a good chance that you or someone you know could benefit. Let’s try replacing the term Universal Design with “Visitability”. Visistability means that your home can comfortably accommodate anyone for a visit. A friend who broke his leg, grandma who needs a little more help that she used too, or a family member with a chronic illness. Is this person comfortable moving about your home, can they use the bathroom? I am not suggesting that we all need to install ramps and grab bars, but there are considerations that can improve the home for both the family that lives there and also those they invite.
Considering Universal Design during the planning atage could mean little more than some subtle shifting of walls to allow spaces to flow more smoothly or specifying products. A mom with a potty training toddler will appreciate a well-placed toilet just as much as someone who suddenly finds themselves with an injury or a senior needing a little assistance. Universal design is about considerations beyond the basic building codes. It is not about making your home look like a hospital.
Kitchens and baths are not the only place to consider Universal Design. As an example, consider the entrance to your home. Is it well lit? Is the landing large? Is there enough space on both sides of the door to easily open the door? Do you have a spot to sit inside the door?
Maybe you already know that the future will hold accessibility issues? You can prepare your ho
me now for the future. Installing a double door to the primary bedroom will make it grand now, but accessible later. Placing blocking in the walls at the time of construction means you are ready to mount assistance devises such as grab bars any time. Consider a main floor office that is preplanned to become a second master suite if it is ever needed. There are many low or no cost options that give you flexibility and integrate seamlessly with your home.
Consider a long day at work- you come home to a custom tiled zero threshold shower with a beautiful built-in bench and hand held shower sprays. This sounds wonderful, nothing about it says disability. It says ease and luxury.Fixtures like the Delta Touch2o faucets, which turn on with just a tap, upgrade everyone’s experience. My son is 6’8”, his wife is 5’4”. The plan for their shower includes an adjustable height showerhead on a weight rated slide bar. This means they both shower in comfort and have something to hang on to while they wash their feet. These items are amenities that anyone would love.
Most building professionals are aware of Aging in Place, but a Universal Design professional is trained to assist by inspecting your space or reviewing your plans and recommending approaches for accessibility and products that will improve everyone’s experience. CAPS, Certified Aging in Place Specialist, is a certification offered by the National Home Builders Association. CLIPP, Certified Living In Place Professional, is certified by the Living in Place Institute.
There are no laws or building codes that say you must apply Universal Design in your home but by incorporating basic principles the biggest benefit you’ll see is comfort. Whose life isn’t better whe n they are comfortable whether it be in their own home or yours?