"Accessibility", with respect to the design of buildings, is a term that most of us know. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires that most buildings used by the public be designed to facilitate use by people with many types of disabilities. We have all seen parking lots, access ramps and accessible washrooms in retail stores, airports and office buildings.
Houses should also incorporate design features and products that are easier to use for people of all ages and abilities. This is a concept called "universal design". For most people though, the image of an accessible home is that of a fluorescent lamp, a wheelchair ramp and a white porcelain plumbing – more like a clinic that a house.
But an accessible home does not have to be like that at all. In fact, many design features and devices that work well for accessibility are also well suited to any one. Accessible design is often simply a good design – an accessible and well integrated home design can and should extend the friendliness of a home through more than one phase of family life.
Starting in the Kitchen
Making a home more accessible is not particularly difficult or expensive. You could even have some universal design principles at work in your kitchen now.
"Side-by-side" refrigerators are easier for a wheelchair user to use – unlike a top-mounted unit. Inside the refrigerator, the sliding shelves eliminate the need to reach all the way to the rear to achieve what you want.
A very common disabling condition related to aging is reduced physical strength, which can make cooking in a large pot difficult if it must be raised in and out of the sink to fill with water . Instead of a standard kitchen faucet, install a "goose-neck" spout that helps fill the pot without lifting it into the sink. And place the cooktop nearby so that the pot can be easily slid over the counter to the burner – no lifting required.
The ultimate in dishwashing is the "drawer" type like those of Fisher & Paykel and KitchenAid. Drawer dishwashers do not require as much bending for loading and unloading and, since there is no door on the way, they are easier to use from a sitting position.
Staying at Home
As the American population ages and real estate prices rise, many homeowners are trying to stay home longer. Too often, however, family homes are primarily designed for young families and quickly become obsolete when they can no longer provide the convenience and security that older citizens need. It's an unfortunate result of a "disposable home" mentality – but it's a subject for a future article!
A few simple design changes can make almost any home capable of supporting changing lifestyles, as ease of use and safety become important issues. One of the easiest is the lock installation for the support bars at appropriate places in the bath when the house is built. These simple and inexpensive structural supports are used for the future installation of support bars, which offer increased safety in showers, bathtubs and toilets.
Another easy change is the use of lever-type door hardware – popular because of its appearance and ease of use, but also for people with mobility limitations or mobility scaled down. Widening the doors by a few centimeters can also extend the life of the house. Standard thirty-inch doors are not wide enough for wheelchairs and can be difficult for anyone with walking difficulties. A door thirty-six inches wide solves both problems and also facilitates the movement of furniture.
Ups and Downs
Stairs are the biggest barrier to the accessibility of any home. Usually a fully accessible home must be on one level – no stairs, no descent, or even door sills. But a one-level home is more expensive to build than a two-story home and may require greater property.
A better solution is a residential elevator. His dear? Compared to the cost of a one-level home on a larger lot, an elevator is a very reasonable expense. It adds only sixty square feet to the floor plan, and allows easy access to the first floor, the second floor and the basement. Better yet, only the elevator cage needs to be installed now – the elevator equipment should not be in place until it is needed, perhaps many years down the road.
Easier Than You Think
In most cases, accessible or universal design is not much more than a good sense of design and a desire to make homes usable by everyone. for any house, regardless of current occupants? Our homes are sometimes a little too disposable – we can easily make them less functional and more functional for a wide range of homeowners with and without disabilities. We will all benefit from a design that helps people stay at home longer.