Universal Design: The Beating Heart of Aging in Place

Most of our clients are familiar with the term “aging in place” and know that it represents the idea that remaining in one’s house and community can be a highly satisfying and financially smart choice…especially when combined with improvements tailored to increase home safety, convenience and accessibility.  But what many don’t know is that while aging in place is a robust descriptive label, the real power behind it is a concept called Universal Design. 

Universal Design is the simple concept that all the thing we make:  structures, furnishings, appliances, vehicles, all our products, and environments, should be easily usable by all people without the need for adaptation or specialized design.  It’s based on a set of seven core principles such as flexibility and simplicity that are applied in ways that result in maximum safety and access for everyone.  Young, old, disabled or healthy, the design mechanism is meant to support all ages and abilities in ways that enable everyone to live together in the same place.

One of our favorite examples of universal design is the story of the old-fashioned vegetable peeler, a clunky appliance that felt uncomfortable and was difficult to use.   One day, a guy named Sam Farber was watching his wife, an arthritis sufferer, struggle while peeling apples, complaining how the device hurt her hands.  He thought there had to be a better way, and together with a team of enlightened designers produced a new line of kitchen hand appliances called Good Grips.  His idea was basic and straightforward, attach thick rubbery handles to existing kitchen tools, and suddenly what was difficult for folks with arthritis suddenly became much better tools for everyone to use.   Sam had designed a handle that could be used for all sorts of applications, pushing, pulling, using like a paintbrush.  He made it bigger, shaped it better to fit in the hand and gave it a special rubber material for improved grip.  We know now the brand as OXO Good Grips, with a vast line of kitchen tools used by everyone.  This is the essence of Universal Design: create a product that erases the distinctions among its users and brings ease of access to everyone.

So, how does this all apply to home environments for our aging in place or mobility clients?  Well, as we’ve said in past blog posts, we take a very “whole house” view of aging in place and try to design and build spaces that work for everyone in the household.  When we create no-step entrance ways, we aren’t just thinking about improved access for wheelchair users; no step entrances are just a better way to get in and out of homes.  The same is true of storage and shelving projects.    Easy reach designs make sense for everyone, not only those with limited movement or flexibility. 

Universal design is the shining beacon which guides all our planning, design and construction work.  Whether our client is seeking a better aging in place environment or improved access to accommodate a physical disability, or just a smart remodel, we find solutions that incorporate improved usefulness for all.  As always, Sadler Construction is glad to share our knowledge with you; please don’t hesitate to give us a call, 919-678-0313 or visit us at SadlerConstructionNC.com.

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