Decorating Decoded: Universal Design

Designing space for every age, stature, abilities and mobility

by Tabitha Dietrich – August 28, 2018

I want to talk to you today about universal design and while its principles are also applied to products, technology and services, I want to focus on how it is used in the home.

First, let me explain exactly what it is. Universal design, also called inclusive design, is a way of approaching design that incorporates all the principles that make a space aesthetically pleasing and functional, but it takes the functionality and usability up a notch. What does that mean exactly? It means the space can be used by everyone regardless of their age, stature, abilities or level of mobility. It takes human needs and abilities into consideration throughout our lifespan. It should even accommodate an individual whether they are right or left handed.

While the term “universal design” may be new, the concept of barrier-free design that it evolved from is not. Designing spaces to make them more accessible to people with disabilities actually started back in the 1960’s. Then in 1990, Congress passed a law called The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which contained some specific legislation that required many businesses and public buildings to install ramps and elevators or make other accommodations to increase accessibility for disabled persons.

Now many of you may think that using universal design in your home applies more to the elderly as it has become more desirable to our older population to stay in their homes as long as possible. It’s being called “aging in place” and it is the process of preparing the home to be more user-friendly in the case of decreased mobility and the need for either a walker or a wheelchair. But universal design goes way beyond just benefitting the elderly and the need for a wheelchair. More people are living with chronic health conditions and a wide array of physical limitations outside of mobility impairments. Some are bedridden, need to use a crutch or cane, have arthritis and have impaired vision or hearing just to site a few examples. Nor are all these people elderly. Have you ever broken your leg skiing or had a child recovering from a sports injury? Even those who have temporary physical impairments can benefit from universal design being implemented in their home.
So let’s talk about some simple ways, other than just installing grab bars in the bathroom, that you can incorporate universal design into your home.

One of the first things to consider is that any change you make should require low physical effort to operate. For example, install lever handles instead of doorknobs and pulls instead of knobs on cabinet doors and drawers. They are easier to grip. Lever handles on faucets also provide ease of operation.

Accessibility is another key component to universal design. Pull out drawers for pots and pans or lazy-susan style corner cabinets bring items out to the user and eliminate bending down to dig them out of the back of the cabinet. Open space under counters and sinks, whether in the kitchen or the bathroom, facilitates food prep, clean-up or maintaining personal hygiene.

Even the type of furniture you choose and its placement contribute to the accessibility of universal design. Seating should be at a proper height and have a firm seat and arms to assist with getting up and down. You should also leave enough room between furniture pieces to make them accessible. Remember, an individual without any mobility impairment should have 18 to 24 inches of pass through space. This a great excuse to pare down and declutter!

Now these are only a few, small suggestions of ways that you can use universal design in your home. In fact, it’s not even close to being the tip of the iceberg. This is not a passing trend in the design industry. I believe universal design is going to become the norm. That’s why I’m going to continue this discussion on the next segment of Decorating Decoded when I’ll go into more depth, especially if you’re building a new house, of what you need to do to make your own home ready for whatever the future holds.

Idea/Concept: Tabitha Dietrich
Videography: Kaitlyn Callahan
Video Editing: Kaitlyn Callahan
Writing: Tabitha Dietrich

Produced by Vogt Media
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