Posted on March 07, 2014
Given the reality that people are living longer now more than in any time in history, universal home design has become more and more relevant to our independence and safety as we endeavor to age in place.
Reference in this context is being made to homes that work for all users regardless of age, ability or disability rather than ada design intended primarily for users with disabilities. This design might also be known by some as accessible design or barrier free design. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) applies to commercial spaces only. Despite this the term ada and ada compliant are used interchangeably for both residential and commercial spaces. For residential reference universal design is more accurate and also less stringent in its application and more encompassing to all needs. It is also not mandated by governing authorities.
Universal designs are solutions that encompass all the terms as noted above without being specifically for disabled users. Universal design when implemented correctly and completely works for everyone without appearing institutional in appearance or function, which is also true for most universal design products.
Most relevant areas usually include bathrooms, kitchens, safe entry and exit and usability of the home. Accessible bathroom design ideas in a universal design bathroom typically include accessible shower units such as a roll in shower. While many of these may also be utilized as wheelchair accessible shower stalls, in a universal design they are not specifically planned for wheelchair access and rather for safe barrier free access to all who may use them regardless of their need. The premise is the ability to easily enter and leave the shower zone without needing to step over a curb, which often creates an obstacle for anyone with limited mobility. Curbed showers may be inaccessible for a user needing a roll in shower design as a result of dependency on a walker or wheelchair for independent and safe mobility. A wheelchair accessible shower design while accommodating this need as a result of its lack of barrier also needs to comply with the minimum size requirements necessary for wheelchair access typical with all ada shower bases. The availability of adequate space is the prime consideration with all handicap bathtubs and showers while not as key with universal designs. Roll in showers and walk in handicap showers will both work in universal design projects but available space in each application will determine if they comply adequately with ada design considering that the need and use may be more specific and pronounced.
Another valuable component of a universal home design might include an ada door opener. These ingenious pieces of equipment create handicap accessible doors which most people are accustomed to finding in public and commercial spaces. While a handicap door is more common in a space used by the general public, automatic door openers residential applications function to enable doors in a personal residence to function automatically too. They are typically activated by way of a hand held remote transmitter, coded keypad and in some case with a wall switch more often typical in a commercial handicap door application. Either way they both make accessing a door possible and often very simple for anyone with limited mobility or reduced strength and therefore form part of a valuable addition to all universal home designs, regardless of their ability or lack there of.
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