Universal design is simply designing to suit the needs of all stages of life. This includes adults and children, people with disabilities and those who are aging.

Not so long ago, when told CAPS stood for Certified Aging in Place Specialist, most would smile but not understand the concept. Now that more than half of the U.S. population is age 50 or older, more of us appreciate that CAPS and universal design have become forceful movements in the building and remodeling industries.

Level entry (no threshold or steps, also known as zero threshold design) is incorporated in at least one entryway in the home. Also common in new construction are door openings and passageways wide enough to allow walkers and wheelchairs to access all rooms, especially in kitchen and bathroom areas. Other common universal design elements include reflective countertop surfaces, nonskid flooring, lever handles on faucets and doors, and extra lighting with lower switches.

In the kitchen, for example, the space required at a kitchen sink for access by a person in a wheelchair is a minimum of 30 in. by 48 in. This also allows for a sufficient work space for most others, especially with the vast array of new products accommodating multiple cooks in a kitchen.

In many kitchen designs, fewer wall cabinets are required as design trends move toward open spaces with panoramic views of the outdoors. With today’s drawer storage, drawer refrigeration and drawer dishwashers, under-the-counter microwave designs and lower wall oven units, the kitchen has become more user-friendly. For those who have agility challenges, raised dishwashers and right-height ovens originally specified for those in wheelchairs now have become adaptable to those who cannot easily bend.

Design improves

In the bathroom, areas of concern include sitting areas, standing spaces and entry points where slippery and wet conditions are present. Still, luxury and beauty in the master suite is a high priority. Creating a walk-in shower with no raised threshold allows for easy entrance not only to the individuals in a wheelchair but also for those who have difficulty raising their feet off the floor as they maneuver. Shower seats are available in many beautiful designs. Shower drain design has improved, too, as have hand-held shower fixtures. With that, safe water temperatures can be adjusted and locked in through use of clever valve systems.

Grab bars are a necessity in all bathrooms, and once again these products look much better than they did a few years ago. Designer-style hand grips that affix to the side of a tub are ideal for assistance getting in and out of a tub or shower space.

Comfort-height toilets are gaining popularity. These toilets make it easier to get up and down from a sitting position.

New lavatory designs offer open space below for knees. When planning for those who must sit to perform tasks either in the bath or kitchen, the minimum dimension for knee clearance is 30 in. wide by 27 in. high by 48 in. deep, with a maximum of 19 in. needed under the counter as part of the 48-in. depth.

Keep products in mind that will aid stability, balance and dexterity. Few clients are willing to compromise aesthetics for safety. Therefore we must keep up with the products that feature both beauty and safety.

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