“Universal Design Helps To Address Subtle Changes In Ability With Occupants & Guests”

When we plan a renovation for someone to address either their physical needs or the limitations of their home, we have many options available to us. Depending on the client’s budget, their desire to have work done, how much work needs to be done to accommodate their needs, how quickly they want it accomplished, and what a reasonable approach might be for completing the tasks at hand, we can address the most obvious or pressing issues, or we can take a more global, longer-term approach.

For younger clients and those without any urgent or apparent medical needs, we don’t need to offer any specific aging in place solutions to meet their needs – because there are no specific needs that we are aware of – but we can address the general aging issues for them and the people who might come to visit them. How do we provide for future needs when we don’t know what they might be? We use universal design and visitable design that are no respecters of age, height, or ability. Doing these improvements now – before they are needed to address a specific physical condition – will provide safe, convenient, and comfortable access over time for a variety of people.

Certainly, we can serve clients who have specific needs that can be addressed – vertical mobility, for instance between floors or access to the bathroom or shower. However, we can have a broader audience to serve – if this is what we would like to do – by looking at the entire marketplace and not just people who contact us because they have a specific need that we can address or those referred to us by a health care professional, rehab specialist, or social service agency.

Let’s be clear. Aging in place solutions is what we are all about. This discussion about expanding our focus just gives us broader appeal and access to the market by approaching people without urgent needs who possibly never thought about any type of aging in place improvements or who think they just need a kitchen, garage, bathroom, or bedroom remodel for an updated look and feel.

There may be some pushback from people without urgent needs who feel no reason to have any improvements made to their homes other than ones that may be cosmetic or aesthetic changes to enhance the look of the home or how they feel about it. They will be exhibiting classic procrastinator behavior by claiming they need nothing to make their lives any better or easier as far as using their homes is concerned. They are happy with the condition of their homes and the way they live in them. The idea that their homes could be more functional or safer is not something that is registering with them. They are looking only at what they see around them right now – with projecting into the future or perceiving any changes in their abilities over time. A decline in physical ability, speed, reaction time, vision, or hearing is not something that people readily consider or admit.

Rather than approach people who aren’t admitting any change in their ability – or even the possibility of it as they age – we can suggest some safety or accessibility improvements that will help them, or we can recommend some visitability enhancements that will benefit them as well. They may be more willing to accept them because the changes will be directed at their homes or their guests rather than directly at them. For instance, widening doorways allow easier access for anyone – not just those with mobility difficulties. Better lighting helps people remain safer by seeing and identifying any potential obstacles or obstructions in their path. – whether it is their home or one they are visiting. Additionally, eyesight generally fades with age and the ability to see well in situations that are not well-illuminated becomes increasingly more difficult. This is both a safety and comfort issue that may not be admitted or discussed but beneficial changes will be noticed and appreciated.

Installing easier to use cabinet and door hardware, eliminating glare with surface treatments or other strategies, and  locating frequently used items in a reasonable access zone of between eighteen and forty-eight inches from the floor can help people remain safer in their homes or the ones they are visiting as well as enjoy living in their homes and using them more.

What we will be doing is using unobtrusive universal design solutions, treatments, and features to improve our clients’ homes and accommodate their slowly changing needs over time without them needing to admit to anyone (us, themselves, family or friends) that their abilities are declining or for us to mention that we are installing the changes to accommodate those changes. We will just be enabling them to more safely and comfortably in theior homes, and that is what we are trying to achieve.

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