Today we're welcoming Cindy Draper back to the Dunn Solutions blog to offer her expertise on everything to consider when planning a kitchen, bath, and laundry room that will be accessible by all people, regardless of ability. Cindy is a marketing manager for Canyon Creek Cabinet Company, a recognized leader in the kitchen and bathroom cabinet industry. Dunn Lumber is proud to offer fully customizable cabinets by Canyon Creek. Here's Cindy.

What Exactly Is Universal Design?

Most of the homes built in the U.S. after WWII were made to standardized building codes based on ergonomic data supplied by our military. This made a lot of sense at the time, because the military had efficiently streamlined production for building equipment and our country needed new homes quickly.

This post-war, mass-production building effort resulted in the standardizations of counter heights; cabinet, door knob and light switch locations; and bathroom fixture height and placement. However, these standard rules developed from military data were based on the physical abilities of healthy 18-year-old men.

The principles of “universal design” (UD) have been around for years, which in its broadest sense means “design for all people.” UD experts in home remodeling and new home building have developed innovative products and created guidelines for home design to meet the needs of a more general segment of our population. A mother with a fussy baby, an athlete with a painful knee injury, a friend with vision problems, and a veteran with balance or mobility issues will all enjoy visiting a home that employs UD principles.

As our population of people with varying degrees of abilities and ages increases—along with a desire for independent living—the trend towards UD has become increasingly popular and fashionable.

What Is Aging in Place?

Similar to the concepts of UD is the term “aging in place.” To educate and train designers, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) collaborated with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) to create the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) program. Through the CAPS educational program, design professionals learn accessibility guidelines and requirements, how to modify spaces, and how to make spaces more comfortable and easier to function in as homeowners get older.

As people age, many wish to remain in their current home as long as possible. UD with accessible features improves quality of life by creating comfortable environments that family members will be able to safely navigate on a daily basis. Both UD and the CAPS program are methods intended to make homes accessible to all household members, regardless of age or physical limitations.

understanding universal design for accessible kitchens baths and laundry rooms

Universal Design Considerations

  • Counters, cabinets, and appliances at multiple heights will benefit all family members whether they are standing or seated
  • Roll-out drawers and shelves will provide easier access for both short and tall people
  • Good lighting will help everyone—especially those with poor vision—and helps prevent falls
  • Incorporating more natural lighting into the design will increase the comfort of those who spend the most time at home
  • Higher electrical outlets will ensure that very young children are not exposed to unnecessary risk; they are also easier to reach for those who have trouble bending down
  • Lower light switches will ensure that children can reach them and older people with limited mobility don’t have to lift their arms very high
  • Under-cabinet lighting and non-glare surfaces will ensure prep areas are easier to see and work around
  • Easy-to-maintain countertops such as laminate, granite, quartz, or other durable materials will ensure long use
  • Touchless faucets, lighted light switches, and dimmers will be more convenient for everyone, including your guests
  • Lever-handle knobs for interior doors instead of round doorknobs will be much easier for anyone trying to open a door with their hands full or who have arthritis
  • Wider doorways and hallways will allow wheelchairs to pass through barrier-free (and also make it easier to move furniture)
  • Avoiding floor elevation changes in rooms throughout the home will eliminate tripping hazards
  • Curbless shower entryways and ample room inside will accommodate a built-in or portable shower chair
  • Streamlined grab bars in the bathroom shower and beside the toilet will accommodate those with balance difficulties
  • Full-length mirrors will be useful for all family members
  • Lowered bathroom sinks and toilets will be accessible to children and to those in wheelchairs
  • Designing work and seating areas with enough room for wheelchair maneuverability
  • One-floor homes with “no-step entrances” will be easier for occupants to eat, sleep, and have a bathroom—all on one level

You don’t have to wait until you are getting ready to retire to start making these alterations. If you have an upcoming remodeling project, you might want to consult a CAPS professional to see what modifications can be incorporated into your design. By planning ahead, homeowners can age safely and comfortably in their homes and still incorporate their design aesthetics.

A home designed with UD and CAPS principles will be more comfortable for you and your guests, enhance its value if your long-term plans are to sell, and will easily welcome a senior moving into in your home.

Read more from Cindy on the Dunn Solutions blog.

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