Monday, May 23, 2016

"Universal Design Accommodates Life's Little Setbacks - Even If Others Don't Notice"

As we go through life, some people have severe physical, sensory, emotional, and cognitive issues that they live with on a daily basis. Others have less severe ones that still present a challenge to them. However, nearly everyone - regardless of their age - suffers from little setbacks or issues now and then. Without making any special adjustments or considerations, these issues are well accommodated with universal design.

If we think of the experience of going through life as not being so much one-hundred percent healthy and whole or living and coping with some type of obvious impairment or disability but rather having various conditions, ailments, and setbacks from time-to-time of various durations, we can see how universal design is such a great strategy.

Very few people, if any, can claim to get through life without muscle aches that limit full extension or use of the affected area (such as an arm, leg, neck, or back), a twisted or sprained ankle or knee, a laceration severe enough to require a trip to the hospital emergency room for stitches, outpatient surgery on the lower legs or feet that mean keeping them dry or staying off them, and similar situations. They may not even be apparent to people outside the home or workplace.

So, how do we deal with such inconveniences? Most people do what they can and modify their daily routines accordingly.

However, if we had a home built with universal design - from a few features to dozens of them - we would find living with such challenges more acceptable. Whether it lasted for just a few days or several weeks, having injured joints, muscles, or bones can be accommodated more easily with devices already installed in the home such as shower seats (fold-down or built-in benches), vertical strategic supports (aka grab bars or assist bars) at the entrance to the tub or shower, a handheld personal shower with a cradle to rest it in near the seat or bench that also has an on-off control mounted on the handle or wand, or lights that come on automatically when entering a room because they are activated by motion.

Obviously there are many more features that can be incorporated into a home - at the time of construction or now as someone is living in it (even if it was built decades ago). The point is that most of us need our homes to respond to us in this way but not that many of us can say that our homes actually do.

Because we can never tell in advance when we might suffer a temporary sensory impairment or be limited in our mobility from some type of injury, homes that are designed with universal design features permitting easy access, no barriers moving between rooms or flooring surfaces in the home, adequate lighting to permit comfortable vision, and door and cabinet pulls that can be grasped or used easily even with a weakened hand, wrist, or harm, make living with such conditions more bearable.

For those who live with limiting physical or sensory conditions on a daily basis, universal design is no less of a friend. It makes coping with and living in their home much safer and more enjoyable for them.

Whether someone's condition is long-term or temporary, universal design applications, treatments, and features within the home go quite far in helping them live comfortably and safely with their home.

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Steve HoffackerCAPS, MCSP, MIRM, is a licensed Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist instructor and best-selling author of universal design books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit stevehoffacker.com or call 561-685-5555.