Universal design works for everyone | Coming of Age…Again

If a lever door handle is easier to operate than a knob for an elderly person who has arthritic wrists, isn’t it also better for a young mother with a grocery bag in one arm and a baby in the other?

The principle of creating living spaces that work for people of all ages and physical abilities, called “universal design,” addresses such questions. Many of the house features that have been considered as add-ons for the elderly and disabled are now seen as desirable convenience for everyone.

Take, for example, the front door peephole. A second, lower peephole works for a person in a wheelchair while it also makes sense for a child.

Separate controls for hot and cold water aren’t an advantage when we really want some point in the continuum between full hot and full cold.

When the bottom shelves of our kitchen cabinets are built at floor level, we need to get on our knees to see what is there. When the top shelves are too high, we need a step-stool to use them. For easier access, both top and bottom shelves can be fitted with trays that pull out and with rotating trays — or Lazy Susans — in the corners.

Most shower heads are at a fixed height although the people who use the shower vary in height by as much as two-and-a-half feet. European-style showers can be raised, lowered or hand held.

Stairway handrails are usually mounted on one side only although traffic is two-way. Aiding a second rail is an inexpensive way to address safety and mobility needs.

Universal design ideas include hundreds of ways to make our homes more livable for all of us. It is less expensive when these features are built into a new home, but some features of universal design can be readily added to an existing home to help it fit your life when your physical abilities change.

For more information see the Northwest Universal Design Council website at environments forall.org and click on “Contact us” to send a request or send a letter to NWUDC c/o Aging &Disability Services, PO Box 34215, Seattle WA 98124-4215.

NWUDC is a nonprofit advocacy organization.

“Coming of Age… Again” is edited by the Kirkland Senior Council, a group the City of Kirkland created in 2001 to advocate for older adults in our community. The council is made up of people living or working in Kirkland who want to help improve and maintain the quality of life for people in Kirkland as they grow older. Membership is open throughout the year.