It’s difficult to argue with the logic of Universal Design. If a home can be designed to be safer, easier to maneuver in, be more intuitive, and in general – equally efficient for small children, capable adults as well as the mobility challenged (which can be anyone of us at any given time) – why not do so? Its benefits apply to people of all abilities. The arguments against – it’s too expensive, or the home will look too institutional are highly inaccurate. In fact, one of the primary UD features – a more spacious open floor plan is the primary trait of almost any new home built today. In terms of cost, adding a walk-in bathtub or an elevator can add significant dollars, but basic UD features can add as little as $1,000 to the cost of a home. the return, however, can add anywhere from 1-4% to the selling price.
Some characteristics are completely invisible – incorporated into the structure for future adaptation. For instance, grab bars require blocking in the walls to provide the required support strength. You may not want the bars just yet, but installed during construction prevents the need to tear up the walls later. Similarly on two-story homes, having closets stacked (one on the 1st floor and one one the 2nd floor directly over the first) can be turned into a home elevator if the homeowner’s physical condition requires it.
Some common UD features:
- Stepless Entries
- 3-foot wide doors
- 4-feet wide halls
- More drawers than doors in the kitchen
- Enhanced task lighting
- Non-slip floors. Minimize the use of carpeting and uneven floor changes in high traffic areas
- A full bathroom with a barrier free 36″ x 36″ minimum shower (with sliding shower head and bench) and a bedroom on the main floor
There are hundreds more.
How does technology fit into Universal Design? There is a growing prevalence of electronic or infrared-activated faucets, commonplace in public places and gaining popularity in the home. Not only do they have a sanitary benefit, they can be operated by anyone. (Which would also be great benefit if you own a loves-to- drink-from-faucet cat!) Window treatments are also being automated. Remotely operated shades or blinds make sense when conventional pull cords are blocked by furniture, and not reachable regardless of the homeowners’ abilities.
Security and lighting are also making life easier for homeowners. A camera at the front door is a nice convenience if you are able-bodied, and a near necessity for a person unable to get up and go to the door. Lighting controls and dimmers are an amenity to some, but take on more importance to someone whose eyes are experiencing temporary or permanent light sensitivity.
In summary, there is a shift taking place in which Universal Design is becoming more mainstream and even expected in homes. The cost of some items keeps some from becoming mainstream just yet, but remember when the cost of flat-screen TV was ridiculous too? Now they are everyday electronics. Universal Design is not just for people who are disabled; it’s for everybody else too.