Universal Design does not strictly deal with accessibility and does not implement precise ADA standards but it does offer flexibility to add accessories now and later to those planning ahead or to the end user. Universal Design principles are about building and remodeling living environments that conform and adapt with the needs and abilities of the occupants throughout their lives. It also provides for a wide range of human performance characteristics for the way people use spaces within their homes including well integrated usability features. These adaptations have a broad market appeal to everyone for achieving ease of use, safety, and convenience accommodating a certain reality. The reality is that all people exist along a continuum of human performance as per their personal traits and characteristics regardless of their age. A universal approach to design takes into account that everyone has varying degrees of ability and disability rather than someone is either fully-functional or disabled. A universal design approach is appealing to all users no matter their age, size, or physical well being. Universal Design is important because our current design standards for housing do not address the design needs of more than one third of our population. Too often the designers of homes allow the built environment to define the capabilities of the resident. Universal Design allows for our antiquated architecture to be defined by both our changing human needs and abilities. Universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities and people with disabilities.
There are seven criteria which must be met to be considered a universal design no matter which area of the home you are referring to. Any design must be equally useful to everyone, have flexibility in usefulness, be simple and intuitive, be perceived by everyone, have a tolerance for error, require little physical effort, and it must maintain an adequate area for approach and use. Any complexity or discriminating attribute to a design will doom it in terms of being considered universal in nature.
The changing makeup of the family has led to the growth of a new architectural science: Universal Design. Simply defined, it is human-centered design that seeks to create environments and products that offer safety and comfort for all people with no need for adaptation or functional changes. The evolution toward Universal Design began in the 1950s with a new attention to design for people with disabilities. Barrier-free design was developed to remove obstacles in the built environment for people with physical disabilities.
In this country, multi-generational households are more common today than they were even 10 years ago, due in part to the recent recession. Planning ahead for the possibility of such a reality, if you are building or remodeling, is worth a bit of time and effort. Homes that incorporate universal design principles are not only perfectly suited for the needs of an aging population, but are also appropriate for families with young children.
While each individual will have different needs and wants, there are many ways to make homes more user-friendly or accessible. Having the ability to enter the home from the outdoors is one of the first steps to enjoying a home. Once inside, the overall layout of the home can make a significant impact on the convenience and usability of the home. Universal design principles recommend a bedroom, kitchen, entertainment area and a full bathroom on the main floor. Finding a professional with the expertise to design, build or remodel a home to be handicap accessible might seem overwhelming. One place to start is by looking through the selection of Certified Aging-In-Place Specialists. This designation program, offered through the National Association of Home Builders, incorporates components of assessment, technical knowledge and management skills related to home modifications that will allow people to stay in their own homes safely and independently for a longer amount of time.
The National Association of Home Builders, in partnership with the AARP and Home Innovation Research Labs, created the CAPS program, which includes training and education on the technical, business management and customer service skills essential to compete in the fastest growing segment of the residential remodeling industry--home modifications for aging in place. David L. Traut, CAPS owner of T-Square Company in Austin, Texas is one of the select group of professionals nationwide to earn the Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation, identifying him as a home remodeler and builder with the skills and knowledge necessary to remodel or modify a home to meet the unique needs of the older population, disabled owners or their visitors.
For additional information about the CAPS program, visit nahb.org/CAPS. For more information about T-Square Company, visit www.tsquareco.com or call 512-444-0097.