Las Vegas — Universal Design, or accessible design, is design that works, no matter what your age or ability is.
That’s the belief of Drue Lawlor, FASID, NCIDQ of Dallas, TX-based education-works, inc., who offered seven Universal Design principles developed by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental researchers from the North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design, that will not only improve the layouts of kitchens, baths and homes in general, but may also change consumer views of Universal Design.
It was also at the heart of the Kitchens and Baths for All Ages seminar Lawlor led at the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show & Conference (K/BIS), here.
While each generation is seemingly rewriting what it means to reach certain milestones in terms of activity and ability, consumers may want to consider Universal Design principles that can improve the functionality and viability of their kitchens and baths. In fact, according to Lawlor, consumers may be happy to know that many aging-in-place products can enhance the aesthetics of a space just as readily.
At the seminar, Lawlor outlined the seven Universal Design principles consumers and designers alike should consider when selecting products and collaborating on design layouts:
- Equitable Use: Refers to the same usage ability for all users. Examples of these types of products would be side-open oven doors, which are safer and more accessible; or power doors with sensors.
- Flexibility in Use: Means that the user has a choice of methods to use, basically accommodating a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. These products would include hand-held showers, especially by the seating area in a shower.
- Simple and Intuitive Use: Refers to the fact that the use of the design is easy to understand.
- Perceptible Information: Using tactile, verbal and pictorial guides to communicate information effectively to the consumer. Examples of this would be audible or flashing fire alarms, or tactile, visual or audible cues on thermostats.
- Tolerance for Error: Ensures that the design minimizes hazards and adverse consequences.
- Low Physical Effort: Allows users to exert the least amount of effort to accomplish a task. These designs can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum amount of fatigue. Lawlor cited levers or loop handles on doors and faucets as effective products.
- Size and Space for Approach and Use: Required to create a clear line of sight to important elements for seated or standing users in the kitchen or bath. This principle allows for approach, reach and manipulation of products or work areas.
According to Lawlor, the design principles are equally suitable for the kitchen and bath. In fact, once a product has been selected and evaluated, both consumers and designers should determine how the product rates according to the design principles.
For the kitchen she offered: “Solid surface material for countertops can offer easier cleaning, so there is less chance for bacteria to build up.”
She also suggested rounding off corners on all countertops, especially for visually impaired persons, and noted that “contrasting colors on counter edges, or at least between counters and cabinets, increases visibility for those with visual impairments.”
Furthermore, Lawlor suggested suspending a mirror above the cooking area to allow vision into pots for a seated person if the cooktop cannot be lowered.
“Portable induction cooktops are great additions for accessibility,” she added. “Try to also include pull-out shelving or accessible counter space near ovens and microwaves to allow for transfer of hot items.”
She further asserted that microwaves should not be placed over cooktops because it causes a danger for users who may be reaching over hot surfaces.
For the bath Lawlor said storage considerations are important, as is the need for clearance space in front and to one side of the toilet