When you think of the words Universal Design and Aging in Place, what comes to your mind? Thoughts of commercial bathroom stalls with bars on the walls and old people in rocking chairs comes to many peoples minds. While those things exist, there are many ways that can be incorporated in basic home design and decorating that will make life easier for all. Universal Design is not just for the physically disabled. Universal Design strives to create accessibility for all. Related to aging it place, design strives to enable independence for those who live in the home. Design should provide comfort, safety and low maintenance for the present and the future.
Independence is a key factor in Universal Design related to the home. It should provide adaptations for sensory, mobility and cognitive limitations. There are so many products and design elements that can be incorporated into a home that will remove the barriers to independence. By incorporating adaptations to the home, a designer will provide more independence to those living there and will reduce the limitations. Some of these adaptations are as easy as designing 3’ wide doorways, providing contrasting colors in decor, installing doorbells that blink, etc.
Accessibility in Decor and Design is not just for the handicapped but for everyone. Design and decorating should focus on the individual needs of the homes inhabitants, not the mass population. In short, that means designing an individualized space specific to those living there. For instance, in the area where I live, a town in Southeast Idaho, I have noticed a few trends in home construction… Can you say brown? Almost all walls throughout the home tours and open houses are painted brown or dark taupe with little variation, with dark cabinetry and dark floors. One of the problems I see with this trend is that as a person’s eye age, their vision tends to blur and things seem darker. Add to that an already dark space and you have a recipe for disaster and even depression. Older eyes require more light to see things clearly, the dark walls will absorb the light creating an even darker space. In fact, as the eyes age, they will see color that is slightly yellowed. Designers and decorators should have the ability to educate the home occupants so that they can plan for the changes that happen with aging and give the occupants the knowledge to make informed choices for their interiors.
There are so many products now that provide for comfort, safety and require little or low maintenance. Simple things can be incorporated in a remodel or new building that include varied working surface heights in kitchens and easy care, slip resistant flooring, and comfort height toilets. All of these ideas and more will create an accessible home environment. A designer should help to educate the inhabitants so that they may live safely and comfortably in their homes providing them with choices. This in turn will create greater independence for those living in the home. Decorating and designing with these principles in mind makes life easier for all. These principles are the intent for Universal Design: making life more accessible for all. If you have any questions, please contact me. Take care.