“I want to stay in my own home!”
Aging in place is an attractive option for many seniors, and you may have heard this common refrain from your loved one. But what about the home itself? Is it also “aging in place”—adapting and changing to the evolving needs of the older adult living there?
Presented by the Starkloff Disability Institute, the upcoming Universal Design Summit 2021 Virtual Conference is an educational program to promote the principles of universal design in housing (along with public places) to industry professionals – such as architects, builders, interior designers, etc. – as well as homeowners and housing advocates. The conference will be held virtually from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.
“We’re trying to – through this conference – help people understand that it’s very attractive and enables you to age in place if you want to,” said Colleen Starkloff, co-founder of the institute. “Our idea is to encourage them and go back to their communities and incorporate universal features.”
Under this year’s theme of “Inclusion Fusion,” the conference will feature live keynote and breakout presentations, as well as networking opportunities and small-group discussions for all participants. And like universal design, Starkloff said, the conference is open to everyone, not just housing professionals.
“We’d love to have people who are thinking about changing their current home or looking for a new home or building a new home to think about these concepts,” she said, “because it just makes sense.”
What is universal design?
Not to be confused with “accessibility design” or design for people with a disability, the roots of universal design trace back to Ron Mace, a licensed architect who successfully lobbied for the first building code for accessibility in the United States back in 1973. He later coined the term “universal design” and established the Center for Accessible Housing – now known as The Center for Universal Design – at North Carolina State University to expand his previous work.
“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design,” Mace said.
Many of the most common universal design elements are now commonplace in homes and buildings across the world: Lever handles on doors and faucets (instead of doorknobs) allow anyone to easily open a door or use a sink (including those with dexterity or grip issues), and stepless entrances allow both the ambulatory and the wheelchair-bound to easily enter a residence.
Yet, it’s often the less noticeable elements that give universal design its greatest strength and allow a dwelling to adapt to whomever might live there—such as unseen plywood behind drywall in bathrooms, which allows greater freedom in mounting grab bars if necessary, or mixing flooring types from room to room (such as hardwood to carpet) to allow anyone with vision limitations to better feel the room transition with their feet.
Starkloff said these aren’t just practical ideas for those with disabilities but simply beneficial for all people—especially homeowners.
“What we’re trying to do is say that this is good, sensible, attractive, practical design, and we just keep trying to promote it because it’s not really required in any codes,” she said. “The features are highly adaptable, and that’s the kind of thing that you’d want to encourage anybody who’s going to modify a home to think about – who the next user might be – and install universal design so they can adapt it to their needs and then put it back when it’s time to sell it.”
Universal design is also for caregivers and seniors
While the pandemic is forcing a virtual conference this year, Starkloff said they expect several hundred to register. She encouraged anyone looking to create a more adaptable home environment – possibly for a senior or someone with a disability – to register and learn more about how you can leverage the benefits of universal design.
“You never know when you might have a stroke or get cancer,” she said. “If people could recognize the design value as well as the real practicality of it, I would hope more people would say, ‘Gee, this is just a great idea.’”
Visit udsummit.com to register for this year’s summit and learn more.