“As remodelers you have to be careful bringing up the subject of universal design with homeowners if they aren’t specifically asking you for it,” says Duncan. “Some people might take it that you think they’re getting old and need universal design in the home. It’s just something that people don’t really want to think about if they don’t have to.”
Among Duncan’s suggestions for bringing up the topic, he advises talking about the homeowner’s parents, in-laws or other extended family coming to visit. By talking about the difficulty visiting family members might have getting around the home, consumers can see the benefit of making some changes around the house, not feel threatened and understand the idea of added value.
The Aide Association for Retired Persons, or AARP, includes lots of advice for older homeowners trying to increase their mobility. It includes education on understanding universal design and 10 easy steps for making a home safer and more comfortable. Including in its suggestions are installing handrails on both sides of all steps, installing easy-to-grasp shaped handles for all drawers and cabinet doors and using brighter light bulbs in all settings.
“Universal design is a phrase that is about 20 years old and has never gotten the name recognition that we all wanted it to,” says Elinor Ginzler, director for livable communities for AARP. “Sometimes what it gets is almost the wrong recognition. This is not about making a home handicap accessible. This is about having features in the home that are helpful to everyone of all ages and all abilities.”
Ginzler goes on to talk about simple changes that can be done to a home to make it more universally designed. For instance, door handles on a home can be changed to lever handles. This makes it easier for the older person with arthritis, the young kid with developing motor skills and the middle-aged mother coming home from the store with bags in her hand. What may seem like just a preference in style or need can really just be a result of universal design.
AARP takes its universal design ideas a step further though and has compiled a checklist for all the major aspects of the home like bathrooms; safety, lighting and storage; doors, floors and walkways; and a final checklist to rate their homes and figure out what special needs a homeowner may need to consider. An invaluable tool not only to consumers, but remodelers as well, these checklists can help remodelers sit down with home-owners and really figure out what work should be done on a home to make it truly universally designed.
“A friend had an addition built onto her home and approved the features and design for the bathroom, and only after it was finished did the remodeler tell her that, ‘by-the-way that bar over there is a grab bar,’ ” tells Ginzler. “She said, ‘What are you talking about? That’s a towel bar.’
‘Yes it is,’ he said, ‘and it’s also a grab bar.’
Ginzler continues, “It’s just another great example of a multipurpose, multifunction, nonstigmatizing way to make the bathroom safe and comfortable for her throughout her lifetime.”
Now in its 17th edition is the 2007 Directory of Accessible Building Products. This guide is sponsored by the 50+ Housing Council, the NAHB Remodelers, Toolbase Services and Lowe’s and is compiled by the NAHB Research Center. In this invaluable resource for remodelers, the NAHB has compiled products and companies that manufacture products that meet ADA requirements (as well as other government acts and agency guidelines) and therefore would be good fits for homeowners looking to update their home with universal design.
“There are more and more universally designed products for the home,” says Duncan. “Now when you want a shower system or grab bar that is more options than just one or two.”
Among the areas that are profiled in the 2007 Directory are appliances, cabinets, sinks and faucets; bathroom fittings and fixtures; ramps and handrails; elevators; doors, windows, and assistive hardware.
“As remodelers, you have to be careful making universal design, and especially the custom stuff, your sole business,” says Duncan. “We’ve seen people jump in with both feet and fail miserably because you still have to hunt down clients. Getting involved with local healthcare associations is a good way to get started, but universal design makes much more sense as a component of the remodeling business and not the single focus.”