As the Baby Boom generation, 73 million strong, moves past retirement and into its golden years, an increasing number of home remodels incorporate aging- and living-in-place design features. These features are a wide range of accommodations and design elements that enable continued accessibility of a home for individuals of all physical abilities.

Universal Design Then and Now

In the context of building and remodeling, universal design (UD) is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible, without the need for specialized design.

Many solutions adhere to the landmark 1994 law, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Therefore, they are often referred to as ADA compliant. Many ADA-compliant products and solutions use the word disability, which is correct; but in many commercial and public spaces, the result is separate and often stigmatized solutions. One example is a ramp that leads to a different entry of a building rather than the main stairway.

The focus of creating universal design spaces is shifting toward invisible design solutions that allow the greatest use by the widest variety of users under a variety of circumstances. This is particularly true in private residential settings.

Simply stated, accessibility codes and standards are not the same as universal design. ADA-compliant solutions relate to codes and standards, but they focus on the needs for specific populations. Universal design shapes environments for larger populations, including the disabled; it accommodates all ages and different abilities.

Avoiding ‘Institutional’ Solutions

In the past, when architects and designers have looked for residential accessibility solutions, they automatically turned to the ADA guidelines and standards. This meant that homeowners had to live with institutional-looking residential environments rather than believing beautiful and accessible environments were possible. The job of residential designers and remodelers, therefore, is to incorporate UD accommodations that are indistinguishable with the design vernacular of a given project solution.

Given the population is aging and most individuals can expect to experience some sort of disability at one point or another in their lives—from broken bones to pregnancy to old age—it makes sense to plan for these eventualities when remodeling, particularly in kitchens and baths, where movement and function are so critically important.

7 Principles of Universal Design

Developed by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University in 1997, the seven guiding principles of universal design are:

1. Equitable Use
The design provides the same means of use for all users, identical and possible equivalent. When not, it avoids segregating or stigmatizing any users, and there are provisions for privacy, security and safety.

2. Flexible Use
The design provides choice and method of use, accommodates right- or left-handed access of use, facilitates the user’s accuracy and precision, and provide adaptability to users.

3. Simple and Intuitive
The design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language, skill or current concentration levels. Eliminates unnecessary complexity, consistency with user expectations and intuition. Simple to clean.

4. Perceptible Information
The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. They provide adequate contrast between essential information in the surroundings and maximize legibility of the essential information.

5. Tolerance for Error
The design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

6. Low Physical Effort
The design be used efficiently and with a minimum of fatigue, allows the user to maintain a neutral body position that uses reasonable operating force, minimizes repetitive action and minimizes sustained physical effort.

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use
Appropriate space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture or mobility.

Product Placement

In kitchens and baths, product placement is a critically important UD consideration. Clearances between objects are different. Generally, more space is required. It is incumbent on designers to make those wider clearances flow naturally and not appear institutional or slightly off in some way.

UD considerations for kitchens and baths are very detailed topics on their own. The considerations range from the color of walls in contrast to the color of toilets to how deep a kitchen sink should be for a taller client. To watch the full webinar with more kitchen and bath design details, go to QR

Amy Dyer is an aging-in-place specialist with Kohler.

The full webinar is available for you to watch, compliments of NARI. Click here to view it. To receive CEUs from NARI, take the quiz at then email Heidi Riedl at NARI will notify you of any CEUs earned.

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