Universal Design… Going Mainstream

By 2030 more than 70 million Americans will be over 65.
With the first wave of Baby Boomers hitting “official” retirement age this year, the trend toward Universal Design (design that accommodates all) seems to be going mainstream.

Rather than waiting for that critical mass of retiring boomers to occur you may have noticed that designers and builders have been “designing differently” for some time.  Since Universal Design holds universal appeal, it is just plain good design.  It needn’t look ugly or institutional- as a matter of fact at first glance you may not even realize that many of the commercial spaces, health care facilities, restaurants and hotel rooms (see article “The Boomer Room“) are not only beautiful, but safe and accessible offering independence, choice and control for all to use.

Universal Design balances the understanding of human needs with users experience.  As boomers age they frequently experience some of the following day to day challenges:

  • Declining vision
  • Reduced Hearing
  • Decreased Strength and Agility
  • Limited Reach
  • Difficulty Bending

Designing accordingly, elder care design professionals who are familiar with the unique physical & emotional changes that accompany the normal aging process respond with innovative design solutions that address these challenges in a seamless, almost undetectable manner.  A few of these are:

  • Lighting sensors that improve lighting and safety as you walk in and out of a room
  • Large print or signage, reading materials and glare- free computer screens
  • “Drive-in curbless showers” with grab bars and shower seats
  • Wider hallways with fewer flooring transitions
  • Comfort height toilets and vanities
  • Enhanced tones on doorbells & phones
  • Easy-in, easy- out chairs and seating units

One of the driving forces for Universal Design becoming mainstream is the aging population.  It is helping us to reinvent the work we live in, teaching us to design differently, to create environments that while evolutionary, appeal to and serve a very broad spectrum of the population.

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