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Close Quick Guide to Universal Design

The goal of universal design it to being sense and function to everyone – whether you are healthy or dealing with a mobility challenge. If you visit a loved one in a retirement community, you’ll quickly notice several things that may be different than your home, especially if it’s an older home.

1. The doors are wider! In homes for older people or homes built with universal design, the doorways are typically wider, at least 32 inches and sometimes as wide as 36 inches, to accommodate wheelchairs, walkers, rollators or scooters. This wider doorway design makes moving around the house a lot easier and a lot safer.

2. Universal design homes are typically one floor. As stairs become more difficult, single floor living becomes less about stair fatigue and more about safety. Accessibility is much easier to attain and maintain when your main living space, including bedroom, kitchen, master bath and main entrance are all on the same floor.

3. Just like the doorways, the halls are wider, too! When hallways are wider, between 36-42 inches, it makes maneuvering wheelchairs or walkers and rollators a lot easier. Between the wider hallways and the wider doorways, it’s also super easy to move furniture in and out of a universal design house.

4. Entryways with no steps. One critical component to universal home design is entries into the home with no steps. Avoiding a step or several steps up into the home is a critical safety feature and keeps older adults and anyone struggling with mobility from being stuck in the house. This is a very important fall prevention step for any home.

5. An open floor plan and design. Having a lot of open space really helps to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility aids. No one wants to be maneuvering tight corners when they need a mobility aid for additional stability. Open spaces offer much more freedom of movement.

6. Lever door handles instead of doorknobs. Once you switch, you’ll never want to go back. The lever door handle is much easier for people with hand strength issues to maneuver, and they are great if you have your hands or arms full.

7. Plenty of lighting, lots of outlets, and not all at ground level. One of the best features of universal design is great lighting. Being able to see where you’re going and avoid obstacles is critical for safety and wellbeing. With plenty of lighting from above and outlets at accessible levels, every home can be well lit, welcoming and safer.

When you combine physical features like those above with slip proof floors and tiling, grab rails, a minimum of rugs and tripping hazards, you have created a much safer and calmer home environment. When you are mobility impaired in any way, navigating places can be really stressful. The goal should be to keep the home environment as safe and relaxing as possible to encourage movement and independence. Aging at home is absolutely possible when you are cognizant of what you really need to be safe.