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  • Lily Dittschlag & Dennis Dittschlag

UNIVERSAL DESIGN & ACCESSIBILITY AT HOME


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Do you want to live in your home for as long as you can?


If you're like us, you probably haven't thought about it too much. But with increasing multi-generational households, an overall aging population, and a problematic public perception of long-term care and retirement homes, many people want to extend the time they can live at home.



Tips & Tricks to make your home safer and more accessible



Design it in!


The ideal starting point for a universally designed house is to design accessibility features right from the get-go. Many solutions can be expensive when they need to be made to an existing home, so including your needs into your requirements and the design early will save you money later.


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Barrier-free concept


The most common concept for accessibility is to eliminate all barriers that would exclude a person with mobility issues to enter a certain area of the home or generally move around with ease. Ideally, we would all live in bungalows without stairs, but that's of course not realistic. The concept goes deeper than staid alone. It can include options like step-in bathtubs or a seamless shower entry, for example.



On a different level


Getting to another level of the house, or sometimes even the front door, can be a huge challenge. Temporary or permanent ramps are good options for smaller elevation changes. But when going to a different floor, chair- or stairlifts or even an elevator may be required.


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Clear the way!


People with canes, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs need clear and level floor space to maneuver around. Wider doorways and an open concept living area are fantastic choices. But even little things make a big difference, like moving furniture out of the way in high traffic areas and avoiding high pile area rugs.



Stability


Flooring is a big topic for safety at home. Smooth flooring that provides little roll-resistance yet is grippy enough to avoid slips and falls, especially when wet, is a key requirement. This is particularly important for key areas in the home like entryways, bathrooms, kitchen, and stairways, where you can often encounter moisture on the floor.


Another aspect of improved stability is handrails. These are very useful when transitioning body positions, e.g. getting in and out of bed.


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The Bathroom


Bathrooms are particularly tricky and possibly dangerous because of the many transitions and the wet surfaces. Aside from the mentioned handrails, step-in tubs, and seamless shower entry, there are additional options to consider here:

  • A shower chair or bench to limit fatigue and slipping

  • Installing a toilet riser

  • Space underneath countertops and sinks for wheelchair access.



In the Kitchen


Kitchens are hard to navigate. A good compromise between floor space for easy movement and compactness for short routes should be your target. This means keeping appliances and the sink closer together, for example.


It may be a good idea to have countertops at different heights for different family members' needs as well. Items used frequently need to be organized and stored so they can be reached without much stretching or bending.


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Getting a grip on it


Storage is another key factor where things can be made easier. There are clever solutions from pull-out drawers and pull-down racks and simple hacks like lowering a hanging rod in the closet.


For an easier grasp of any type of door or drawer, it's best to replace knobs with handles or rods. A similar concept applies for light switches, i.e. replacing smaller toggle switches with a rocker or push button switch, or even motion sensor switches where it makes sense.



Lighting


Good lighting is not just a great design feature and a way to create ambiance in your home. Lighting is also very important for accessibility around the house, indoors and outdoors, especially in areas that may otherwise be hard to navigate safely.


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Technology


Our world continuously evolves with new products and technologies being released constantly. There have been significant advancements in personal adaptive and assistive technologies that are worthwhile to look at. For options around the home, this is no different. One of the most effective technologies for accessibility is voice activation that can be integrated with your home automation system or just used in specific areas of need. But beware of going overboard! The individual devices and the whole system must still be user-friendly and easy to learn.



Terminology


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Getting around easily at home and having features that make everyday life safe and comfortable for everyone is the underlying idea of all these tips and tricks. There are plenty of terms to describe this concept, with "Universal Design" probably being the most comprehensive and descriptive. Other terms include some specific aspects or focus more on the social environment as opposed to building design, like:

  • Design for All

  • Accessibility

  • Aging in Place

  • Integrated Living

  • Barrier-free Home

Sometimes it's good to think ahead and determine what you may need at home down the road. Any of these features may be a sensitive topic or hard to consider when planning your new home. But a truly "forever home" should be future-proof to a certain extent.



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