Universal Design for All Ages, Abilities

young woman in a whee;chair at home

Universal design (UD) enables occupants to age in place in healthier, more accessible, and productive homes. According to AARP, a recent study reveals that almost 80% of older adults want to live in their own home as long as possible.

However, universal design is not only for seniors or those with physical challenges. As it becomes more mainstream in architecture and interior design, UD emphasizes convenience, flexibility, simplicity, and adaptability, but doesn’t fall short on style (even bathroom grab bars come in different metal finishes and colors now!).

UD benefits both occupants and visitors as well. For example, my parents – mom on a walker and dad in a wheelchair – can easily visit my home because our condo has an accessible ramp but they unable to maneuver the stairs where my siblings live.

Throughout the house, consider wider doorways with low threshold or no-step entrances, backlit rocker-style light switches, low-effort lever door handles, easy-open windows, pull-out work surfaces, removal of area rugs (they are a trip hazard!), touchless control lamps, motion-detector night lights, and voice-activated and other smart home technologies from televisions and thermostats to refrigerators that can order your groceries and ovens that alert you if left on too long.

A walk- or roll-in shower with a pulldown bench seat, grab bars near a raised toilet, anti-scald faucets, and no-slip floor surfaces are worthy investments in the bathroom. Ideally, the room should also be large enough to include a barrier-free, five-foot diameter space so a wheelchair can completely turn around. Believe it or not, there are even robo-toilets with lids that raise automatically, and voice-activated flushing mechanisms.

In the kitchen, install accessible cabinet storage like lazy Susans and pull-out drawers, touchless sensor-style or single lever faucets, C- or D-shaped drawer pulls, and consider raising the dishwasher, lowering the microwave, and adding countertops at different levels.

In both the kitchen and bath, install sinks with wheelchair-accessible space below them.

In the bedroom, eliminate bedside obstacles, and more importantly, lower the height of the bed for easier access.

There are lots of internet resources on the subject as well as certified contractors so go ahead and make these upgrades to benefit yourself or loved ones.

With many satisfied clients since 2008, Barbara Graceffa owns and operates Secretary of the Interior in Quincy, MA offering decorating services at reasonable rates. If you want to suggest a blog topic or have a decorating, downsizing/decluttering or home staging project needing professional help or are interested in hosting a workshop or quilt show, please contact her via her website www.sec-interior.com or phone 617.921.6033.


By Barbara Graceffa

Barbara Graceffa, CEO of Secretary of the Interior, serves decorating clients; assists with professional organizing, home staging and moving assistance; teaches on these subjects; and delivers quilt lectures and trunk shows.

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