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Universal Design Accommodates Physical Diversity

Written by on Sunday, 07 July 2013 7:00 pm

In grandma's house, her daughter is a single mom with two kids under foot, but the kids' uncle, a war vet confined to a wheel chair, keeps the chuckles coming.

It could be tough creating a home for a people with so many different physical needs, but not if you work with Universal Design.

Far beyond hold bars and wheel chair ramps, Universal Design uses a variety of building techniques, as well as features to remove barriers and make new and existing homes accessible for all.

Universal Design origins

Universal Design is the brainchild of Ronald L. Mace, an architect and wheelchair user who helped found the Raleigh, NC-based Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University - an idea that spawned an industry.

In the 1970's era that gave rise to do-it-yourselfers, long before "entrepreneur" was a buzz word, Mace and others developed seven Universal Design Principles that can be applied to both new and existing homes to broaden a structure's accessibility, usability and safety for all household members from kids to retired adults and people with disabilities.

The seven principles are equitable use; flexibility; simple and intuitive; perceptible information; tolerance for error; low physical effort; and size and space for approach and use.

The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) says Universal Design was never just another remodeling fad, but one with staying power because it empowers every segment of the population - in many cases before some people even know they need it.

"Most people don't think about Universal Design until it's too late," says Russell Long, president of Aloha Home Builders in Eugene, OR. Long is remodeling his home to fit the accessibility needs of his 16-year-old son who was born with cerebral palsy.

"A healthy person can be injured or need to care for a loved one who is aging, and suddenly, your needs have changed," says Long.

Universal Design appeal

NARI highlights Long's 2012 Northwest Regional CotY Award-winning home to reveals how Universal Design can serve his son as well as a host of others with varying physical capabilities.

  • Zero barriers. No steps in the home, especially at entryways. All living quarters are on the first floor, with the exception of an upstairs area that was converted into an apartment to house a caregiver at some point. An older, less mobile person, as well as toddlers can also benefit from zero barriers.

  • Open spaces. Wide hallways, open living spaces and dual entries in all rooms are common for wheelchair accessibility.

    Long's hallways are more than 5 feet wide and living spaces are expanded so wheelchairs can move around furniture easily.

    Also, two entryways in all rooms - including the living room, dining room and kitchen - allows for ample traffic flow throughout the house - say for a throng of hormone-raging teens who need lots of room to roam.

  • Kitchens without kitsch. Microwave drawers and refrigeration drawers are also common in Universal Design, but Long says drawers are also a stylistic feature for those who prefer to showcase beautiful cabinetry and granite countertops rather than the eye-sore of a microwave taking up counter space.

  • Improved mobility. Hardwood flooring is superior to carpeting for wheelchair accessibility. Long removed carpeting on the first floor and installed engineered hardwood throughout.

    Installing new flooring gave Long the opportunity to install a five zone, energy-efficient radiant heating system throughout the house.

  • Cool pool access. A ramped pool entrance is a unique design feature developed by Long to make it easier for his son to be transferred in and out of the pool safely. However, once installed, the ramped entrance doubles as a convenient bench for guests to sit on while they enjoy the pool. Another key to Universal Design is to consider design solutions you may need now, but solutions that also address potential future needs.

    Don't think of Universal Design as clinical design. Great form added to the function creates a home that appeals to a more universal cross section of homebuyers and owners who want a decent return on home improvement investments.

    "We research products and designs that blend functionality with beautiful aesthetics of a home, so that it never compromises a client's style," Long says.

    Just check out Long's gallery of Universal Design. .

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      About the author, Broderick Perkins

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