Universal Design takes usability and accessibility to new technological heights.
A person is more than their disability and their home is more than just a place to live.
Colorado builders are taking note of the growing need for homes designed to increase usability and accessibility for all who need it, including those with disabilities and people who choose to age (or live) in place.
The numbers on accessibility
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 850,000 adults, (approximately 20%), in Colorado have a disability. On a broader scale, one in four adults in the U.S. has some type of disability and more than one billion people in the world are living with a disability.
According to the 2021 AARP “Home and Community Preferences Survey,” 77% of adults 50 and older want to remain in their homes for the long term, a number that has held steady for more than a decade.
To that end, Colorado’s older population is growing faster than most others: In 2010, 10.9% of Colorado residents were 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimates. In 2020, that percentage jumped to 14.6%, though still lower than the national average of 16%.
Principles of UD (Washington.edu)
Builders are incorporating the “7 Principles of Universal Design,” as established by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State, to increase the usage and accessibility for homeowners.
- Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. A website that is designed so that it is accessible to everyone, including people who are blind, employs this principle.
- Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. A museum that allows a visitor to choose to read or listen to a description of the contents of a display case employs this principle.
- Simple and Intuitive: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Science lab equipment with control buttons that are clear and intuitive employs this principle.
- Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. Video captioning employs this principle.
- Tolerance for error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. An educational software program that provides guidance when the user makes an inappropriate selection employs this principle.
- Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably, and with a minimum of fatigue. Doors that open automatically employ this principle.
- Size and Space for Approach and Use: The design provides appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body, size, posture, or mobility. A science lab with adjustable tables employs this principle.
The human side of the story
Meet Lexi M., a 37-year-old woman who has a spinal cord injury and became a quadriplegic as the result of a motorcycle accident in 2017. She and her husband, Shannon, have lived in their home in Colorado for 11 years, never thinking that one day, it may not serve their basic needs, primarily that it didn’t have a bedroom or bathroom on the main level.
“We talked about a lot,” said Lexi. “We talked about selling, having to refinance to get money out, to do something. We knew the time was ticking down and that I would be home. I was in (Craig) Hospital for about four months.”
Fast forward to May 4, 2022.
Help came from Home Builders Foundation (HBF), which strives to “build independence, provide opportunities and elevate lives for individuals and families with disabilities.” The Centennial, Colorado-based organization stepped in and created a large, multiphase home modification project that included an addition to her home with an accessible bedroom, large closet, study and bathroom, and home automation/blinds, as well as a ramp and sidewalk to the front of the house. The dedication and ceremony were emotional, to say the least for the couple.
“I’ll never forget coming home that day, coming in here and it was just more than I could ever ask for,” said Lexi.
She beams when she shares how much more comfortable she now feels in her own home. “It’s allowed privacy and independence, definitely. Of course, the space too. I think those are the three biggest things.”
Home Builders Foundation and partners build forever homes with accessibility
“We say that we build independence and elevate lives,” says Brian Johnson, program director for Home Builders Foundation. “It’s kind of our mission statement. We do home modifications for people with disabilities. We quadrupled the size of this home.”
Since 1993, the non-profit has enabled individuals with disabilities and their families to live more independent lives and has completed nearly 2,000 projects. Volunteers and collaborative partners come together to create home modifications that empower greater access, reinforce safety and equip clients with the ability to tackle everyday tasks. HBF has completed home modifications including ramps, room alterations, bathrooms–all at no charge.
“It just makes me feel awesome to know that we made such a change in (Lexi’s) life,” says (Brad).
The Tech Advantage
Technological components of universally designed homes add another dimension of independence and freedom. Companies such as ListenUp take systems in the home and integrate them together either with a standalone automation system or a consumer-level product like Google Assistant. Some are voice activated, and some are remote or touch controlled.
“We added automation features to the addition, such as automated window coverings, automated lighting, as well as voice control,” noted Chris Emas from ListenUp.
This means that Lexi can turn on her TV, open and control her shades and turn on her lights seamlessly and without any assistance.
When asked why homebuilder Lennar chose to be involved with this remodel, Brad McCoy, the company’s area customer care manager simply said, “Because it is the right thing to do; we did a modification to her home to be able to help her out.” The addition involved additional framing, a restroom, closet, extra space, extra light and a ramp so Lexi could have accessibility to transportation.
Architectural Imagineering’s Principal Architect Ken Riley was already a fan of HBF’s projects as he had personal experience with the organization through his own son.
“I contacted them about my son’s house and helping to get him home from the facility and getting the Ranch in so he could come home,” says Riley. “And they did such a good job, and I liked the organization so much, I wanted to pay it forward.”
For Lexi, she loves the additional light that Riley was able to bring into her home and especially the ability to work more independently.
Aging-in-place, home for life
Much of the U.S.’s population of baby boomers (78 million) and people with disabilities will be able to benefit from a universal design approach to age or live in place. It is more cost effective to initially design homes utilizing universal design features rather than remodeling later. By starting with a universal design approach when a house is being built, it is less likely that modifications will be needed to accommodate unexpected injuries and illnesses.
Universal Design Living Laboratory
On June 13, 1998, Rosemarie Rossetti’s life was transformed forever when a three and one-half-ton tree came crashing down on her and paralyzed her from the waist down. She is now an internationally known speaker, trainer, consultant, writer and publisher who, with her husband Mark, has designed, built, and currently lives in the Ohio-based Universal Design Living Laboratory. It is a top-rated universal design home in North America with three national universal design certifications.
According to Rossetti, the design of a person’s home impacts the quality of life now as well as in the future. “The design of the spaces in a home should be done by a professional who is knowledgeable about accessible and universal design,” says Rossetti. “No one can predict when a person will acquire a disability.”
She adds that as a person ages, there will be a natural decline in a person’s mobility, strength, vision, and hearing.
However, design features can be included to allow the occupants to age in their homes for their lifetimes. Specifically, accessibility and safety features can be added to include grab bars, curbless showers, 36-inch wide doors, natural and artificial lighting, knee space under sinks and cooktops, and 30-34-inch high countertops.
The goal of the Universal Living Design Laboratory is to bring about awareness of the quality of indoor and outdoor lifestyle through universal design, green building, safety, and healthy home construction practices to the public, construction and design industries.
Living in Place Institute
“Everybody toys with the term universal design, but I like to counter that,” says Louie Delaware of Denver’s Living in Place Institute. “There are certain things in universal design that’s supposed to be used by all people. One, the preponderance of the population is right-handed. But if you put a right-handed scissors into the hands of a left-handed person, it won’t work.”
As a result, Delaware says that universal design doesn’t always take the individual person into consideration.
“That is really key because when you’re doing this sort of stuff, you’re trying to do it for that individual.”
Delaware and his wife recently lost their home to the Marshall Fire but are rebuilding on the same site.
“The way we look at it, our next house is our oyster because we’re designing it to more or less the principles that we teach in our program at the Living in Place Institute.”
He echoes the other universal design experts in that it is much easier and less expensive to plan for living in place at the onset versus modifying a home at a later date.
“The added expense to make the house right from the get-go might end up only being one to two percent in additional cost.”
As Delaware puts his universal design passion into his personal home rebuilding, the Living In Place Institute continues to bring together a network of professionals through professional education and awareness programs to improve home accessibility, health and safety.
“By not segmenting the industry by age and respecting all abilities, practical solutions for the needs of all people can literally be built into every home,” the organization intones.
Here is to creating a greater sense of inclusivity, accessibility and independence for all.