Universal Design and Aging in Place

Universal Design and Aging in Place

Microwave DrawerUniversal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities and people with disabilities.

Universal design is a consideration in the design of all Jenkins Custom Homes.

Aging in Place

As today’s Baby Boomers have watched their own parents transition into assisted living homes, they are more interested in an alternative option for themselves.

A 2011 AARP survey revealed that more than half of boomers view aging in place as a major long term care (LTC) concern, 49 percent supported the availability of LTC services for aging in place, and 59 percent strongly supported redirecting nursing home funds towards home- or community-based services instead.

The 78 million plus boomers have a powerful voice: Aging in place is now a hot industry, with products, programs, and professionals designed for consumers who want to stay home. Proof positive—Google “aging in place” and you’ll get an impressive 105 million hits. It’s a dynamic niche, and one that’s evolving as quickly as the boomers and seniors determined to stay home.

Along with aging in place, universal design is becoming more of a household term. Essentially, it’s about building or modifying places and spaces—both public and private—to accommodate people of all ages and abilities. More than just an architectural concept, universal design is a win-win for sandwich generation boomers caring for aging parents and their children at home, for grandparents raising grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and for all who are facing the challenges of caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other chronic diseases.

Whether your family needs the support now or down the road, universal design features are a good long-term investment for the home itself. So what does an age-friendly home look like? Here are some of the most important elements of universal design for aging in place:

Proper lighting

Proper lighting is absolutely critical to avoiding accidents. Motion sensor activated lights are a wonderful solution.

No step entry

You should have at least one step-free entrance (either at the front, back, or side of the house) so everyone, including wheelchair users, can enter the home easily and safely.

Wide doorways and hallways

A doorway that is at least 36 inches wide is great when you’re bringing home a new mattress or couch, but it’s even better when someone you care for, or a regularly visiting friend or family member, is in a wheelchair. Also, hallways that are 42 inches wide are good for multigenerational family members with varying “mobilities.”

One-floor living

Access to essential rooms without the use of stairs makes life more convenient and safe for residents ages 0 to 100.

Easily accessible controls and switches

A person in a wheelchair can reach light switches that are 42-48 inches above the floor. Thermostats should be placed no higher than 48 inches off the floor, and electrical outlets 18-24 inches off the floor. Keep these measurements in mind when modifying or designing your home.

Easy-to-use handles

Consider selecting lever-style handles for (painless) ease of use in place of twist/turn doorknobs and faucets.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design

Lever door handleIn 1997, a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers at North Carolina State University developed the 7 Principles of Universal Design. The Principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers

about the characteristics of more usable products and environments. Here are the 7 Principles of Universal Design:

Principle 1: Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

Learn more about The 7 Principles of Universal Design.

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