Adaptations for Universal Design

By Sandra Fleishman – The Washington Post The Americans With Disabilities Act, the 1990 law that requires public spaces to be accessible, does not establish guidelines for building accessible private homes or adapting them. The key, according to design experts, is to make the changes that best suit the person who lives or visits there.  

Because it’s more expensive to renovate than to build in accessibility, in some cases, it may be cheaper to move than to modify, experts say. Or to add on, when possible, rather than renovate existing space.

At a minimum, they say, homes should be built with as few barriers as possible for people of all ages, sizes and abilities and with features that allow people to “age in place,” or to live independently in their home as long as possible.

Some basics of this approach, called “universal design,” include having:

· A no-step entry, so that any resident or visitor can get into the house or the main rooms.

· One-story living, meaning there are places to eat, use the bathroom and sleep all on one level. The level should be barrier-free, meaning it has thresholds flush with the floor and a pathway from and between those rooms that is wide enough for a wheelchair to get around easily.

· Doorways at least 32 inches wide but preferably 36 inches.

· Hallways at least 36 inches wide.

· Open floor plans.

· Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces.

· Handrails at stairs and grab bars in bathrooms.

· Good lighting.

· Lever door handles rather than doorknobs, rocker light switches rather than standard switches, easy-access electrical outlets and other controls.

· Adjustable cabinets that allow under-counter knee space for people in wheelchairs.

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