Universal design makes homes easier for all ages


Where would you like to live as you grow older? Did you answer “at home” or “independently?” If yes, you are in good company as over 70 percent of adults over age 45 agree with you. Making it possible to live at home as long as possible is more feasible when planning begins early and the principles of universal design are incorporated into the planning process.

Universal design is a term used by construction, design and other professionals to describe standards and practices that are designed for ease of use by all individuals regardless of age, gender or ability. When put into place, universal design principles not only make aging at home more possible, but also create a more accessible and usable space for everyone across the lifespan.

Think about a ramp that leads from the driveway to the front door of your home. The ramp makes it possible for an individual in a wheelchair to maneuver successfully to the door. The ramp also makes it easier and safer to maneuver a stroller, rolled luggage or large furniture such as a new washing machine or sofa into the home.

Simple home-modification ideas

While constructing a ramp can be costly in terms of time and money, there are many home alterations that can be made at minimal cost. Consider some of the following:

• Levered door handles make opening the door easier for arthritic hands and well as those holding a baby or carrying multiple bags.

• Levered faucet handles make turning the water on and off for easier for young, old, soapy or slippery hands.

• Light switches with flat panels require less small motor skills than the standard flip switches.

• Additional lighting increases visibility and decreases the risk of falls for people of all ages.

• Handheld and adjustable shower heads allow for easier bathing of those in wheelchairs and those of different heights.

• Grab bars in the shower increase stability and decrease risks of falls.

Remodeling and building using universal design

If you are planning a building or remodel project, consider looking for a professional familiar with universal design principles. Several national associations, including the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and the National Association of Home Builders, offer universal design training and certifications to their members so ask about whether they have this type of background.

The National Association for Home Builders’ checklist for aging in place remodeling is found at bit.ly/1JdV2JF and includes tips such as:

• Select low-maintenance exteriors and landscape designs to decrease ongoing upkeep.

• Include primary living space on a single story such as a full bath, bedroom, laundry room and common areas.

• Eliminate any steps or floor-level changes between rooms.

• Design a fully accessible bathroom on the main level that allows for wheelchair accessibility in the shower.

• Build carports and garages that will accommodate vehicle lifts and wheelchair accessibility.

Today’s column just briefly touched on some of the basic ideas of universal design. Spend some time learning more about the topic and strategies that will make aging at home a safe and realistic option:

Seven Principles of Universal Design, eXtension.org article, https://bit.ly/2OFbQxn.

Universal Design Can Help People Age in Their Homes, AARP article, bit.ly/2MpO8HS.

Understanding Aging in Place and Universal Design, National Association of Home Builders article, bit.ly/2w7nmcZ.

Universal Design for All, National Association of the Remodeling Industry article, bit.ly/2wcLviG.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.