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Universal design features in homes make life easier

Why Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. makes aging her business

May 2, 2016
By Rosemarie Rosetti, Ph.D.

Your home is the most important environment in your life. This is where you spend time in the day-to-day activities of living, eating, cooking, gardening, relaxing, entertaining, sleeping, and sometimes working from home.

When we select our home we give a lot of thought to the location, price, square footage, maintenance demands and suitability to fit our budget. We also need to take into consideration how functional this home is now as well as in the future.

As we age there are predictable changes in our bodies. Over time we lose strength, agility, fine motor control, vision, flexibility, reaction time, and mobility. When thinking about a home that will support individuals as they age, think about including design features that will make it possible for family members to live there long term independently and safely.

People want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, however they find that their homes do not accommodate them due to the barriers in the home. Steps, narrow doorways, small bathrooms, and a lack of safety features can be limiting factors forcing people to make major modifications, move to another house or to an assisted living facility.

No one can predict what will happen from one day to the next that will result in a disability. I know from experience that life changes in an instant. On June 13, 1998 while riding my bicycle, I was crushed by a 3 1/2 ton falling tree. The spinal cord injury that I sustained left me paralyzed from the waist down. Coming home from the hospital in a wheelchair was a rude awakening. When my home was built in 1995, I thought that it would accommodate me for my lifetime. Little did I know how my home would intensify my disability.

There were steps at every door to my home, to the second floor, and to the basement that I could not navigate. The thick carpet and padding throughout the house were very taxing to roll on in my wheelchair. Doors had to be removed so I could get into rooms. I lost all privacy and independence. Storage areas were out of my reach. My frustration led me to imagine what life would be like in a fully accessible home that would enable me to be independent.

My husband, Mark Leder, and I began a journey to learn about universal design. It is a framework for the design of living and working spaces and products, benefiting the widest possible range of people in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Universal design is human-centered design, accommodating people of all sizes, ages, and abilities. A home designed with universal design principles certainly makes life easier, not only for those with mobility limitations, but also for those who are young, old, short or tall. We are a good couple to illustrate the value of universal design, as Mark stands at 6'4" and I am 4'2" tall seated in my wheelchair.

The Universal Design Living LaboratoryIn September 2004, with a team of experts, Mark and I began designing and building our home. In May 2012, we moved in. This home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, serves as a national demonstration home and garden so that others can learn about the value of universal design. It is the top rated universal design home in North America earning three national certifications. Our website contains a wealth of information including a virtual tour, video tour, listing of the universal design features, photos, and articles.

There are many features that make life easier. To facilitate access to the home there should be at least one entrance without a step. All interior doors should be 36 inches wide. Countertops should be of various heights in the kitchen and bathrooms to accommodate people who are seated as well as standing. Walls in the bathrooms should be reinforced by the toilets and in the shower so that grab bars can be installed. Curbless showers should be large enough to accommodate a caregiver and a person who needs to transfer from a wheelchair to a shower chair.

Homes designed with universal design features provide our aging society with homes that are livable for a lifetime, and that's why I make aging my business.

Copyright by Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. 2016

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. works with consumers, home designers and builders that want to create inspired and livable homes. She is an internationally known speaker, consultant, and author. To contact Rosemarie and learn about her speaking services, go to: www.RosemarieSpeaks.com To learn about her home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, and get the free report of the universal design features in the home go to: www.UDLL.com


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Aging. It's Everybody's Business.

The Ohio Department of Aging is celebrating Older Americans Month with the theme: "Aging. It's Everybody's Business." All month long, we are turning our blog over to our many and various partners, from our sister state agencies to organizations and individuals working every day in our communities to build a stronger Ohio for all generations.

This article is presented for informational purposes and its posting here does not constitute an endorsement by the Department of Aging of the author, his or her organization or the opinions expressed.


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