Home Sweet (Forever) Home

Universal design takes usability and accessibility to new technological heights

Photo: Universal Design Living Laboratory

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

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.”

Photo: Home Builders Foundation

Home Builders Foundation and partners build forever homes

“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.”

The project partners included Brad McCoy (Lennar), Greg Shepherd (Accessible Systems), Ken Riley (Architectural Imagineering Studio), Michelle Mendoza (Gomez Howard Group) and Chris Emas (ListenUp).

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).


Valarie Rose Johnson

Valarie is Editor-at-Large of Colorado Builder and has a 25-year, award-winning career as a publisher, editor and writer for local, regional, national and international publications. Valarie is a Colorado native and enjoys hiking, traveling, meditating, kayaking, yoga, reading and spending time with her husband and family. She can be reached at [email protected] or (303) 502-2523.

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