By: Samantha Weber, OT
Many people have seen reality television shows centered on home renovations. Whether the focus is the house, the landscaping, or the entire neighborhood, the format is usually the same: introduction of the homeowner, images of the property in its current condition, a reel of renovations, and then the “big reveal” in which the improved property is showcased.
Homeowners shout, squeal or scream about the granite countertops, new paint, whirlpool bathtub, or master suite. But what is usually missing from the picture? “Universal Design” and “Aging in Place”.
Universal Design is about creating an environment that everyone, regardless of age, size or ability, can live or visit now and in the future without the need for adaptation or modification as situations change. Aging in Place is being able to live in one’s present residence comfortably, safely and independently for as long as wanted.
By incorporating principles of Universal Design and Aging in Place, homeowners can take steps now to make their homes both beautiful and functional to ensure accessibility for themselves, their family and visitors. After all, how much does that stunning granite countertop matter if someone can’t enter the front door? Or how impressive is the beautiful second floor master suite if someone must sponge bathe in the first floor powder room?
Here are some ideas to consider during home renovation:
- A doorway width of 32 inches is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) standard. The larger the doorway, the easier it is for everyone to enter including people in wheelchairs, moms with strollers, and movers with furniture.
- Consider grading the land to allow a barrier free entry or create a gentle sloping entrance to the front door. More steps mean more challenges for people carrying groceries, children and for those with difficulty walking.
- Eliminate “sunken” living rooms or “step up” kitchens. Unnecessary steps inside the house limit the access of both toddlers and visitors with arthritic knees.
- Consider creating a full bathroom on the first floor. Whether it’s a 30 year old who broke his leg skiing or an 80 year old who broke her hip after falling, everyone appreciates being able to bathe and use the toilet in the bathroom on the ground floor. Low cost renovations such as the installation of grab bars or a handheld shower make everyone’s bathroom safer and easier.
While it may not be cost effective to implement every suggestion when renovating, it is important to consider both the appearance and the function of the home. An occupational or physical therapist with experience in home modification or a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) can provide more creative ideas to create a safe and enjoyable living environment suitable for all now and in the future.
Samantha Weber, OT, is an occupational therapist on staff at Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital.