The idea of Universal Design has been around since 1997. Not all of us have the same capabilities and this idea follows the belief that all areas of your house should be as accessible as possible. Whether this need arises as we age or from an unfortunate accident, there are provisions that can be made during the building phase to help accommodate most circumstances.
When I first heard the term Universal Design several thoughts ran through my head. The first being, “I’m ‘normal’ I don’t need that.” The next being a vision of unsightly tile, hospital beds, fluorescent lights and bulky grab bars. After some research, I now see this as an important aspect to consider when designing a project. First and foremost, functional does not have to be ugly. As we all grow older and many people want to age in place, manufacturers are designing more and more products that are both aesthetically pleasing and well-designed.
Universal Design features are for the young and old alike. Tomorrow is not promised for any of us. A freak accident can happen to any one of us at any time taking away our mobility and making our everyday life more difficult. Navigating around your house should not be difficult. Planning ahead to make wider doorways and hallways that will be wheelchair accessible if the need arises is an easy change to incorporate into your initial design. You probably won’t even notice the extra width until you need to use it.
Universal design is not about making separate handicap accessible doorways and bathrooms. Instead, this is an inclusive methodology where all areas of the house are made accessible to everyone. For example, rather than add a ramp and separate entrance for wheelchairs, build one entrance without stairs for everyone to use. As history teaches us, “Separate but Equal” is not the way to live. Likewise, build one bathroom with a 3’-0” door and adequate space that can be accessed by all individuals whether they have a wheelchair or not.
One need not be living with a disability to benefit from Universal Design. Take a look around your house. Specifically focus on your kitchen and think of the tasks you dislike because they are inconvenient. Do you find it cumbersome to dig dishes and cookware out from the back of your kitchen cabinets? Is it hard on your knees to squat and bend to complete this task? Why not install pull-out shelving units to assist in getting to those hard to reach items? Are you too short to reach the glassware on the top shelf of your wall mounted cabinets? You either have to wait for a tall friend to stop by or you climb up on a chair (dangerous!)? How about pull down shelves?
When rehabilitating an existing structure, incorporating universal design features can be expensive. In that case, start with the most pressing needs and then continue to update your house as your budget allows. When starting a new project from the ground up, be sure to ask your contractor and designer to show you options for universal design.
We are lucky to live in a society where we can make changes and accommodations to make our lives easier. Check out our Pinterest Boards for more ideas!