Growing Up with Universal Design

Article written by Carolyn Cook for the Town of Davidson’s HIA program

WHAT IS UNIVERSAL DESIGN?

Doors under sink allow safe access from a seated position. (photo www.livabledesign.com)

Doors under sink allow safe access from a seated position. (photo www.livabledesign.com)

Universal Design is a design concept that makes a home more livable and easier to use by as many people as possible, regardless of their size, age or ability.  Children benefit greatly from Universal  Design.  They learn to be:

  • Independent–an accessible microwave or refrigerator drawer allows children to prepare their own snacks.
  • Involved–varied kitchen counter heights encourage children to help with mealtime preparation.
  • Responsible–proper finishes and varied counter heights make cleanup easier for children.
  • Safe–sidelights at entry doors and peepholes at 48″ above the floor allow children to see who’s at the door.

WHY CARE ABOUT UNIVERSAL DESIGN?

Every six minutes, a child under the age of 5 in the US falls down a flight of stairs.  Fourteen children a day, under the age of 5, fall from windows.  Scalds are the number one burn injury in the home for children under 4.  Universal Design can help reduce the likelihood and severity of these injuries:

Wrapping stairs around stacked closets (shown here as a reading nook on top floor) eliminates a long flight of stairs, minimizing the chance of severe injury. (photo www.fabcab.com)

Wrapping stairs around stacked closets (shown here as a reading nook on top floor) eliminates a long flight of stairs, minimizing the chance of severe injury. (photo www.fabcab.com)

  • Shorten the stair run in your new two-story home by wrapping the stairs around stacked closets.  In the case of a fall, the fall is shortened to a few steps rather than a full flight of stairs.
  • Install an anti-scald mixing valve for the shower and tub faucets.
  • Locate the microwave on the counter top, on the shelf below or install a microwave drawer–never place it above the stove.
  • Locate a young child’s bedroom on the first floor to prevent the chance of falling from second floor windows.

IMPLEMENTING UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN YOUR HOME

The  most efficient and cost-effective way to implement Universal Design into your home is during the home’s initial design phase.  Flexibility and adaptability are designed into the plan allowing you to respond to life changes more easily and efficiently (Universal Design costs approximately $4,000-$8,000 per new home).  As your family grows and ages, your home meets these changing needs.  The benefits of planning ahead:

  • Flex-space with an adjoining bath can morph an office into a bedroom as your family grows.  A Murphy bed can also be used to transform an office or play area into a bedroom.
  • In addition to providing access to those with short or long-term disabilities, Universal Design features can provide easier stroller access and bathing of children.

PROMOTING UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN THE COMMUNITY

  • Learn more about Universal Design and share what you know with friends, family and neighbors.
  • Incorporate Universal Design features within your existing home or while building a new one.
  • Join committees within your community to provide input on decisions around housing, aging-in-place, community development, parts, transportation, greenways, etc.
  • Raise awareness of the need for Universal Design by writing letters to the newspaper editor, blogging or speaking to interested groups.

For more information on Universal Design, go to:
Universal Design Institute
Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access
Universal Design Living Laboratory

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