AFS Blog

Universal Design Makes Sense #ForAllAges

Posted on February 20, 2019 | by Linda Albert
Universal Design Makes Sense #ForAllAges

Many of us are familiar with examples of Universal Design such as lever door handles, rocker light switches, and ramp entryways. But what about raised dishwashers, upper cabinet racks that pull down to countertop level, entry door “peepholes” at both high and low levels, and elevated gardening beds? Sarasota County recently presented a class on Universal Design (UD) and Visitability, introducing why UD matters.

WHAT: Whether you are eight or eighty, UD emphasizes accessible, supportive, flexible, and safe home environments, homes that are adaptive as individual needs change over time. Visitability focuses on home aspects that enable a visitor to enter a house, navigate hallways, and have access to a first-floor restroom. It is estimated that half of U.S. homes will at some time have an individual with a disability visit.

WHY: From an aging in place perspective, Sarasota County is unique. It has the third highest median age of large counties in the U.S. at 53.1 years; 31.7% of the population is over 65 years of age vs. 18% statewide, and this number is projected to increase to 38% by 2040. And UD is not just for older adults. Imagine trying to get a child napping in a stroller into a house with entry steps without waking them or navigating your own home with an injury that has impacted your mobility.

The UD and Visitability class attendees arrived readied with questions. The presentation was informative and augmented with numerous slides featuring examples of UD design options. The novelty and simplicity of the many UD solutions were surprising, as were the before and after UD retrofit photos. Some key takeaways from the class:

  • UD makes sense for people of all ages and abilities
  • Ideally, UD is a proactive choice with modifications in place before you need them
  • UD will be embraced by housing builders when the public expects it
  • Homes with UD features have increased marketability, and
  • UD options can be very, very stylish!
  • How can you incorporate UD into your house? If you are building a home, consider incorporating UD features. The cost differential for UD design may be negligible. Remodeling offers another opportunity. According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the fastest growing segment in the remodeling industry is home modifications for aging in place. The NAHB offers a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program, and you can find local CAPS specialists on their website.

    Naturally, some UD retrofits will be more expensive than others, but the cost is often mitigated over time when compared to care costs for someone who cannot age in their own home. Start with one room or a modification in one room. Some solutions may be as simple as creating an open shelving system or the raising or lowering of frequently used appliances.

    Are you interested in learning more? This class will be offered again on May 14th at Selby Library.

    In the interim, AARP offers a free HomeFit Guide that can help get you started, and there are numerous online resources available, as well as locally through the Universal Design Coalition.


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