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Universal Design: Aging in Place and ADA Accessible Homes

Universal design is broad term referring to buildings, products, and environments that are naturally accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities. The term was first coined by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the idea of designing all products and construction to be both aesthetically pleasing and usable to the greatest extent possible by anyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life. Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled, really pioneered the concept of free access for disabled people in 1963. He’s best known for the creation of the dropped curb – now a standard feature of sidewalks everywhere.

Austin and Central Texas residential home builders still have a long way to go in making homes more accessible, but wider doorways and roll-in showers are catching on, especially now that baby boomers are aging. Other commons examples included by many new home builders are: smooth ground level entrances, lever door handles, slip resistant surfaces in wet areas, and larger touch-activated light switches.

The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University has listed the following principles in the architecture of universal design: equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use.

Aging in Place

Aging in Place has been defined as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” One-third of American households are home to residents over 60 years old. Most adults would prefer to age in place—that is, live in their chosen home as long as possible. In a recent study, 90% of adults over the age of 65 report that they would prefer to stay in their current residence as they age. 

Partners for Livable Communities and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging developed the Aging in Place initiative to help communities develop guidelines and policies for becoming places where people can grow up, live, and become old.

Grab Bar Blocking

Grab Bar Blocking Inside the Wall

Some Austin and Central Texas home builders have made their homes more friendly to aging in place by adopting universal design in their new homes. Another impressive and forward-thinking trend is the generational home design. Multi-generational homes offer a private suite separate from the main house usually including a bedroom, bath, mini-kitchen, living room, and sometimes even a separate garage to provide a level of privacy and independence to either older parents or adult children living in the same home.

ADA Accessible

ADA compliant house plans are similar to universal design.  They are home plans that include features that make it more user-friendly for the handicapped but, making a home ADA compliant doesn’t make it strictly a design for the handicapped. These designs incorporate smart technology and function including no-step entries, wider doorways and hallways, open floor plans, lever door handles, and good lighting. This home style is perfect for people of all ages and abilities including: small children, baby boomers, or empty nesters looking to downsize and preparing for future medical challenges. Making small design changes to a floor plan allows people to live freely for many years. That is the goal of both aging in place and ADA Accessible homes.

Contact Betty Saenz

Betty Saenz has become an expert Realtor® on universal design, aging in place, and ADA accessible homes in the Austin, San Antonio, and Central Texas area. Click Here to see the Pinterest Board that Betty has created on universal design ideas. If you need a real estate agent who understands the needs of people with all levels of ability, contact Betty Saenz today or call the phone number below.