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How Universal Design Creates A Seamless Aging-In-Place Experience

Overhead View of Classical Acrylic Top Sink along with a full bathtub and faucets
Updated onApr. 25, 2022

There is no denying that society is changing on a global scale as more and more individuals live longer. An estimated three million individuals will turn 65 every year for the next two decades or so.

The changing makeup of the family has led to the growth of a new architectural science: Universal design. Simply defined, it is human-centered design that seeks to create environments and products that offer safety and comfort for all people with no need for adaptation or functional changes. The evolution toward Universal Design began in the 1950s with a new attention to design for people with disabilities. Barrier-free design was developed to remove obstacles in the built environment for people with physical disabilities.

Barrier-free design was developed to remove obstacles in the built environment for people with physical disabilities.

In this country, multi-generational households are more common today than they were even 10 years ago, due in part to the recent recession. Planning ahead for the possibility of such a reality, if you are building or remodeling, is worth a bit of time and effort. Homes that incorporate universal design principles are not only perfectly suited for the needs of an aging population, but are also appropriate for families with young children. Aging in place, for you or a family member, can be accomplished seamlessly with Universal Design.

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There are 7 basic principles for Universal Design. Whether you’re selecting products for your home, or creating a software, these principles come into play.

  • Principle 1: Equitable Use
  • Principle 2: Flexibility in Use
  • Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use
  • Principle 4: Perceptible Information
  • Principle 5: Tolerance for Error
  • Principle 6: Low Physical Effort
  • Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

There are some very simple things you can do to make your home more in line with Universal Design. One of the easiest things you can do is to replace door knobs with levers. Also, trade out your traditional faucets for models with blade handles or motion controls.

For hallways and doorways, consider eliminating stairs and level changes wherever possible; widen all hallways to at least 36 inches, eliminate long halls whenever possible, and make most, if not all doorways and room openings at least 36 inches. Lower wall switches and raise receptacles throughout the home so that that they are easier to reach; install illuminated versions where appropriate for safely and convenience.

One easy way to assure that a bathroom is usable by small children as well as someone in a wheelchair is to simply lower one vanity sink and eliminate the cabinet underneath, opting instead for a slim vanity shelf. Consider automatic flushing mechanisms and install anti-scalding temperature controls in showers.

In the kitchen, wall ovens with doors that open to the side rather than fold down to the front are easy to use by everyone. Lower the cook top so that burners are easily accessible by a short person or from a wheelchair. Investigate refrigerator and dishwasher drawers; store dishes in below-counter drawers and eliminate upper cabinets. Install pull-out shelves and corner lazy-susans.