Begin by thinking of aging in place as the most accessible, inclusive design possible – employing a combination of visitability, universal design, accessibility techniques. At one time, both universal design and aging in place strategies were aimed at helping wheelchair users adapt and navigate throughout a single-family home or apartment. While that is still true, it is not just wheelchair users, nor any particular segment of the population, that we are focused on helping with our strategies. It is everyone, but on a case-by-case basis according to their individual needs.
Even two people living side by side on the same street in essentially the same home are going to have potentially different needs due to their life experiences and the way they use their homes. While homes built at the same time are going to have some physical similarities, it’s unlikely they have remained exactly as they were built with the same wall colors, flooring, lighting, kitchens, and more. Therefore, each home presents different and unique opportunities to suggest modifications to the floor plan, the furnishings and fixtures, the finishes and treatments, and the way the plan lives.
If we begin with the premise that each home is going to have different needs from the one next to it (from minor to major), we need to create a starting point. Universal design becomes that baseline.
We begin outside and traverse the floor plan looking for anything that interrupts the smooth flow of people in the home. People need to be able to approach the home safely, enter without having to move about on the porch or stoop to keep away from the opening door, have sufficient lighting at the entry (and inside the home) to feel comfortable regardless of time of day or weather conditions, feel secure in their footing as they approach the entrance and go through it, move about inside the home easily without stumbling over thresholds or changes in flooring, pass through doorways without issue, and perform the customary activities of daily living to their ability without any challenges from their home.
From a starting point of making sure that homes offer an accessible entrance and flow to the floor plan that accommodates a range of mobility situations, we can move on to looking at specific adjustments that need to be made to individual homes to make them safer or more usable for the actual occupants of the home.
Thus, we are moving from the general to the specific – from the general accommodations that universal design and visitability provide for access and freedom of movement to the specifics required to tailor a home to the specific use requirements and needs of the occupants.
Aging in place, as a comprehensive strategy, involves creating a living environment that enables anyone entering the space (residents and visitors) to move about safely and easily with universal design and visitability and then further adapting that living environment with whatever aging in place measures might be required to address the specific requirements of those needing more help to use their space more effectively.
Aging in place strategies allow the individual occupants of a dwelling to have their needs met in such a way that they can remain viable residents of that home environment for as long as they like or until their needs change dramatically and need to be readdressed and have additional solutions created and implemented.
We have the ability to establish universal design and visitability features as a baseline for any home we work with and then to additionally treat it for needs that aren’t met by the more general accessibility concepts. First, we treat the space to make it the most inclusive and usable as possible. Then we address specific needs that people have in terms of cognitive, mobility, or sensory issues.