How noticeable is Universal Design?

Done right, it isn't. In other words, slapping a wooden ramp on the side of a house isn't technically Universal Design (more like an accident waiting to happen). You don't notice universally designed elements of a home until you're either enjoying or rely on them.

This project portfolio on Houzz represents a fine example of a few points I make regularly about Universal Design (UD). Now that more people are becoming aware of UD, traditional misconceptions come up that it is "ADA" or "will make my house look like a hospital". UD is for anyone, it's kid-friendly and, despite an obvious solution, not only for "aging-in-place" (A phrase we dislike). UD is a solution for enabling "aging" in one's home, or barrier-free living, but suited for anyone who prefers convenience and ease.

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What is a Peter Pan House?

Peter Pan It's the opposite of a Lifetime Home. "Peter Pan Houses" are designed and constructed as if the occupants never change, and assume an "average person" of a typical height, weight, ability, mobility, vision, hearing, etc. In other words, you have to adapt to the house instead of vice versa. Depending on what life throws your way, you might not be able to stay.

Unfortunately, most houses and neighborhoods built since the Second World War were developed this way, more up than out with narrow passages, sharp corners, and lots of steps inside and out (even on flat lots!).

Thankfully, regardless of your preferred style, houses can be designed and built to proactively emphasize efficiency, convenience, comfort and safety for anyone of any age or ability. A Lifetime Home is flexible and socially sustainable, the antithesis of Peter Pan Housing.

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Subliminal Universal Design

You're probably using Universal Design (UD) without knowing it, which is the way it should be because UD done well isn't noticeable, it's simply better, the preferred and convenient choice.

And of all places I saw during an NFL game a few weeks ago this Delta faucet commercial. (Notice they show kid's hands, not just elderly) Delta promotes their touch and motion activated faucets among their "Smart Solutions" kitchen and bath fixtures. All the major manufacturers now carry a universal line of fixtures, but there's a noticeable difference in the marketing, they don't utter the words "Universal Design" or "Aging-in-Place" (a phrase we can't stand because UD benefits are not only for the aging).

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What is Universal Design?

Easiest way to remember Universal Design is "UD = EZ for the most people". Commercially, Universal Design, abbreviated UD, has been around for decades (e.g. Velcro, electric toothbrush, automatic doors to retail stores) but North Carolina State's College of Design first introduced UD for the home in 1997.

I begin this series of posts about Universal Design for the home (also referred to as "barrier-free living") by defining as features, methods and applications easily used by any person of any age or ability. Think kid-friendly or flexible enough to be accomplished or enjoyed either seated or standing. For example, most people can get through a wide doorway or hallway, or enter a shower or doorway without a raised threshold. Most people can use motion-activated lights or a lever door handle.

If you remember ONLY ONE thing, recall UD = EZ for every aspect of a property both inside and outside.

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