Universal design is a concept, or perhaps a euphemism, for exterior and interior design that works for the individual as they age. First-level living, few or no steps, grab bars, falls-prevention design, wide bathroom areas for a potential wheel chair, wide doorways, showers with seats to assist home health aides, and easy-to-enter bathtubs are all part of the equation.
Universal living takes the concept of aging in place, easy living as we age, and freedom to choose a lifestyle and expands it past the home into the community. Mobility, safe streets, inclusion in community affairs, anti-ageism attitudes, respect for mature adults, and universal design in public spaces are all components of successful universal living in an age-friendly community.
Age Friendly/Age Blind
Age friendly and Age blind connotes that age is not a determinant factor for life opportunities. Phrases like “Livable Communities” are replacing age-based phrases like ““Age-Friendly Communities.” Further, a community that might have facilities that cater to mature adults might now call themselves a “Life Continuum Community” to indicate that one can be comfortable there at any age.
Healthy Home Design
The people who actively seek out universal design in their home or community value lifelong independence and freedom of motion and life choices so that they are no different than they were when they were younger. The expectation is that they will live a long time, stay healthy, and be engaged in life activities. The goal of design is to eliminate physical obstacles, like steps, out-of-reach shelves, and hard-to-turn handles, not just to make life easier, but also to prevent reminders of aging. That means that visible signs of accessibility are unwanted.
Even in over 55 age-based communities, the words retirement or leisure communities have been replaced with “next-stage life style,” and “second-home community.” The homes may be large, but upkeep is easier. Basics of universal design, such as grab bars, non-slip floors, 32-36-inch door entries, low or no thresholds, barrier-free showers, handrails where there are stairs, ramps, varying work height kitchen cabinets, single-lever faucets, big print thermostats, electric outlets 15 inches from the floor, and switches 48 inches from the floor are the details included in the design.
Technology, Assistive Devices, and Universal Design
Which brings us to what universal design could become in the future for young home owners, as well as the mature. That evolution may be called “adaptable design.” There is a younger, healthy group that also views universal design as valuable for their future. They want to be able to easily and conveniently adapt their home “just in case” their mental or physical status changes in the years to come. So, a reinforced wall to include a grab bar later on, a first-floor bedroom layout, elevator options, and cabinet height options are desirable because a major component of the psychographic is their expectation that they will age in place.
Universal Design at Advanced Ages
At advanced ages or where there is a mental or physical disability, Americans for Disability Act (ADA) requirements such as available para-transit or accessible public transportation, ramps, and signage also become part of universal living. Even for those with disabilities, universal design is a road to healthier aging. At home, safety sensors to monitor movement, alarms, computer-driven medication management, and online health management become important. Alzheimer’s sufferers also can live out their lives at home when issues of “wandering” are addressed spatially.
Green, Universal Design, and Home Spas
There is another interface of utmost importance in examining the psychographic qualities of the boomer/active senior. That is their emotional desire to stay current and to accept trends and make them their own. This may be a major reason that it is becoming impossible to separate universal design, which is rooted in physical and mental accommodations as we age naturally, with notions of “green,” water conservation, and restricted carbon footprint. As a draftsman overlays simple drawings to create three dimensional design, universality, environmentalism, spa atmosphere, health and wellness are all compatible values that overlay the consumer choices of our psychographic. A feature, fixture, or design that combines as many elements of these as possible is the one of choice.
Adriane Berg is CEO of Generation Bold, a leader in marketing to boomers and seniors, and an international speaker. Her latest book is Critical Path Success Business Development.