Wanted: An Accessible Home for the Ages

Perhaps the one unifying need that connects people young and old, able bodied and disabled is having a place to call home. But depending on age and ability, a standard home may not be functional for many homeowners.

Enter universal home design. The cutting-edge architectural design provides living space that adjusts to the changing needs of home owners — enabling the home to grow with an individual from infancy through later adulthood.

According to the AARP, some common universal design features include:

  • No-step entry: A home without stairs to get into the front door or into the home?s main rooms.
  • One-story living: The kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms are all located on one, barrier-free level.
  • Wide doorways and hallways: Doorways that are 32-36 inches wide let wheelchairs pass through, while 36-42-inch hallways allow everyone and everything to move more easily from room to room.
  • Extra floor space: A less cramped home with ample space for wheelchairs to turn.
  • Non-slip surfaces: Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces provide safety for everyone. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars in bathrooms.
  • Lever door handles: While great for people with poor hand strength, these door handles help hands that are busy with groceries and other items.

Universal design can have a major impact on the aging baby boomer generation, allowing them to live out their lives in their homes more easily. The design also has implications for children because the home, designed with safety in mind, can adjust to the child?s changing height. For example, brackets in closets permit shelves to easily raise or lower depending on height. Pull-out shelves in the kitchen allow users who are shorter or in wheelchairs to reach the back of cabinets. Wider doorways and no threshold entryways allow those in wheelchairs, or using any type of mobility equipment, to easily enter and move about the home.

To bring universal design to the masses, many advocates are working to pass laws that would make universal design a requirement for new homes being built.

For more information on universal design, check out the following resources:

This article originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of HME Business.

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