Advisory Board Columnist
Universal design, handicap access, adaptive design, visibility — they're all terms I'm sure you've seen or heard at some point as a remodeler or as an industry ally. Look at those words again and think about what kind of picture they paint for you in your mind.
Do you see cold commercial-style restrooms or that unsightly ramp tacked onto your local post office? Maybe you see wheelchairs, walkers and stainless steel shower seats. Whatever comes to mind, it's hard not to admit there is a certain stigma attached to those clinical terms.
As we continue to respond to our aging population and the housing needs associated with that market, those words and the design principles unique to each term will be hard to ignore if you like to maintain yourself in the mainstream remodeling industry. With one in four of us in the U.S. currently over the age of 50, it's a sure thing you'll be called to action sooner or later to integrate some unique design solutions into one of your projects.
That really is how most of us are introduced to aging-in-place housing solutions; we get a call from a prospect who has an express need for something in their house as a result of an accident or injury or has a long-term progressive or degenerative disease.
As a result of that call, we need to immediately school ourselves on what to do for that specific need or ailment — not exactly the way any of us want to learn. But, all too often we're forced into becoming an expert, or today's client will find someone who can offer them the professional advice they seek.
One solution is to begin to educate yourself about what aging in place design encompasses. You'll find in most respects it has a lot to do with the fairly straightforward principles of universal design.
The definition of universal design is simply to create environments that are supportive of all people, ages and abilities. Although few designs can integrate all design principles unique to universal design, you would be surprised how many could be included with a little planning and some attention paid to product selection and placement.
The real appeal to introducing universal design into your work successfully is that it can be challenging, to even the best designers, to pull off integration of universal design and score the ultimate victory, creating an approach in which the use of universal design isn't felt or necessarily seen without thinking about the space in those terms. In other words, universal design is a design tool that doesn't have to have a sterile or institutional feel to it.
It's up to the designer and the builder to successfully create a project that is universal design sensitive but remains true to the client's original intent on how he or she wanted the space to look and to feel. If you are truly successful, only you and the trained observer will be able to list all the principles employed. After all, isn't that why people are paying to use a professional in the first place?