Accessibility isn’t just about planning for old age. It’s about creating a home that’s convenient, regardless of your health or physical condition. Universal design is the term associated with accessibility. It can increase your odds of independent living, and make life more pleasant as you get older and remain at home.
Universal design is also a concern when there’s the possibility of caring for an aging parent, or if you plan to sell your home at some point. The more perks you can offer, the broader your prospective buyer pool and the baby boomer generation is huge.
Here are some tips that can help you design an accessible home without sacrificing any of the style you’ve come to love.
Automated Lighting Helps Keep You Safer
Remote lighting controls and automated lights aren’t just for times when you’re away from home. There are many new independently living products let you control lights in one part of the house without getting up and walking to reach the switch.
This serves a few purposes. Once you’re in bed, you don’t have to walk through the house if you can’t remember whether the kitchen lights were left on. Also, it allows you to illuminate areas of the house before you get there, which reduces the risk of slip and fall injuries.
Shower Conversions Make Independent Living Simpler
You might not think about it now, but there will probably come a time when stepping over the edge of a bathtub isn’t as easy as it once was. Replacing a tub and shower combo with a shower stall, or installing a curbless shower, enables independently living for years. (Read: Remodeling a Bathroom: A Homeowner's Story)
With a shower stall, you have the ability to contain water without the unnecessary burden of climbing in and out of a bathtub. Curbless showers take that concept up a notch. With no lip at all along the floor, you can enter and exit the shower with ease, regardless of whether you’re on foot or in a wheelchair.
Multiple Shower Heads Give You More Control
In a shower with one showerhead, you’ve got one source of water. But what if one day you’d rather sit down to clean up? Multiple shower heads help make that possible. With one shower head up high and others situated at different levels on the wall, you can stand or sit where you like, and still have plenty of water.
Also, a detachable shower head with a hose lets you control where the water comes from. Situated low on the wall, there won’t be any concerns about whether you can reach it or put it back once you’re finished.
The “Closed Fist” Test Reveals Universal Design Compatibility
In your kitchen and bathroom, the “closed fist” test shows whether you need a new faucet that’s easier to operate, or if the one you have is suitable. This Old House explains that to perform the test, all you need to do is try to turn on and off, the faucet using only a closed fist. If you can, then your faucet will work, even if you develop arthritis that makes gripping a handle difficult.
If you can’t, it may be time to think about a motion-sensitive faucet that doesn’t have a handle at all. Even if we haven't identified something here, there are many new products for aging baby boomers who need independent living help, you're likely to find a solution which wasn't available even a few years ago.
This test also applies to door and cabinet handles. If you can’t operate them easily, look into lever handles for doors, which you can push down using only a fist, and cabinet pulls that don’t require nimble hands.
Slip Resistant Floors for Independent Living
Trip and fall injuries are no joke. To help avoid them, hard-surface flooring that’s soft underfoot, and also slip-resistant is the way to go. Cushioned vinyl and cork flooring aren’t as cold as tile, and they’re softer, too. Both surfaces are easy to care for, and only require light sweeping and mopping, unlike carpeting which needs to be vacuumed.
Another issue is rugs. Throw rugs and area rugs are a tripping hazard. To reduce that possibility, try using self-adhesive carpet squares. They look and feel like carpet, but they don’t move around on the floor.
Plenty of Space Helps You Get Around
You never know what your situation will be as you age, and you never know who else in your family will need special accommodations. (Read: Renovating to Stay in Your Current Home) Universal design helps everyone feel safer and more comfortable. Space is critical in independent living environments. Without it, injuries are more likely to happen as people maneuver around obstacles.
When planning major changes to your home, think about widening some doorways and relocating others that might impair mobility. Work space is also important, especially in the kitchen. Cramped quarters with an unnecessary center island aren’t practical. By leaving a minimum of 3 feet of space between everything, it will be easier to navigate these tight quarters.
Universal design is a topic that we could talk about for months without covering all the possibilities. The key to independent living is safety and convenience, so work with that in mind when building or planning a remodel.
Are you planning to incorporate more accessible fixtures and features in your home? We would love for you to share your stories of how it's working (or not) for you.