Key Considerations for Accessible Home Design
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandates that most
buildings used by the public be designed for ease of use by persons with
many kinds of disabilities. Yet, homes should also incorporate design
features and products that are easier to use by people of all ages and
abilities. This concept is referred to as universal design.
While for some people, the image of an accessible home is one of fluorescent lights, wheelchair ramps, and white porcelain plumbing fixtures – more like a clinic than a home.
Yet, accessible design doesn't need to be like that at all. In fact, many features and fixtures that work well for accessibility are also well-suited for just about anyone.
Accessible design is often just good design and it can be appealing and quite tasteful. A well-integrated home design can and should extend a home’s usability through more than just one phase of family life.
Start In The Kitchen
Making a house more accessible isn’t particularly difficult or expensive. You might even have some universal design principals at work in your kitchen now. For example, side-by-side refrigerators are more usable by a person in a wheelchair, unlike a unit with the freezer mounted on top. Inside the refrigerator, sliding shelves eliminate the need to reach all the way to the back to retrieve what you want.
Install a "goose-neck" spout instead of a standard kitchen sink that allows a pot to be filled without lifting it into the sink. And place the cooktop nearby so that a pot can be easily slid across the countertop to the burner with no lifting required.
The latest in dishwasher design is the “drawer” type that don’t require as much bending over to load and unload. Since there’s no door in the way, they’re more easily used from a sitting position.
As the population ages and the housing market remains challenging, many homeowners are trying to stay in their homes longer. Too often, however, family homes are primarily designed for young families and become rapidly obsolete when they can no longer provide the convenience and safety that older citizens need.
A few simple adaptive changes can make almost any residence better able to support changing lifestyles, as ease of use and safety become important issues.
One of the easiest is the installation of blocking for grab 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 grab bars, which provide increased safety in showers, tubs, and at toilets.
Another easy change is using "lever-type" door hardware, which is popular because of its looks and, ease of use,for persons with reduced strength or restricted mobility.
Widening the doors a few inches can also extend the useable life of the house. Standard thirty-inch doors aren’t wide enough for wheelchairs and can be difficult for anyone with trouble walking. A thirty-six inch wide door in solves both problems and makes moving furniture a lot easier, too.
Ups and Downs
Stairs are the biggest obstacle to making any home accessible. Typically, a fully accessible home must be all on one level – no stairs, step-downs, or even door thresholds. Yet a one-level home is more costly to build than a two-story and may require a larger property.
A better solution is to install a residential elevator. Compared to the cost of a one-level home on a larger lot, an elevator is a very reasonable expense for an accessible home. It only adds about sixty square feet to the floor plan, and enables easy access to the first floor, the second floor, and the basement.
Easier Than You Might Think
In most cases, accessible home or universal design is not much more than good design sense and a desire to make houses usable by everyone.
Today’s houses are sometimes a little too "disposable" and we can easily make them less so by making them more functional for a wide range of homeowners with and without disabilities. We’ll all benefit from design that helps people stay in their homes longer.
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