Quality of Life

Anyone who has struggled with mobility issues or cared for a friend or relative with a disability knows the emotional toll can be immense for the patient and his or her family. Finding compassionate and skilled service providers to help ease the strain and provide better quality of life can make all the difference.

Remodelers who have been educated to design and construct spaces for people with special needs can play an integral role in providing comfortable and functional homes for these clients. In fact, statistics indicate offering special-needs remodeling services could be a successful business strategy now and into the future. Consider the following:

  • More than 36 million Americans have a disability, according to the 2009 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.
  • The Washington-based Social Security Administration’s “Annual Performance Plan for Fiscal Year 2012” stated nearly 80 million baby boomers will file for retirement benefits during the next 20 years. This means an average of 10,000 people per day will be turning 65 for the next two decades.
  • A Washington-based AARP study reports 89 percent of those 50 and older would prefer to remain in their own residences as they age.


A homeowner may be able to share his or her physical impairments with a remodeler, but without education a remodeler may not know how to ease the homeowner’s difficulties. The Washington-based National Association of Home Builders and Des Plaines, Ill.-based National Association of the Remodeling Industry offer courses and certifications—Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and Universal Design Certified Professional (UDCP), respectively—to help remodelers understand and meet clients’ special needs.

“We take a lot for granted when we don’t have special needs,” explains Bruce Graf, CR, CKBR, CAPS, owner of Graf Developments, a full-service remodeling firm in Grand Prairie, Texas. “When you’re going through the courses, they bring up issues to think about that wake you up to others’ needs. Because of my certification I can stand back, scan a room and automatically see problem areas. I could’ve watched and learned a little bit at a time. Instead, I go into a project knowledgeable about aspects that even the special needs person might not have given much thought.”

NAHB’s CAPS certification has been around for 10 years and was developed as a partnership between NAHB Remodelers and AARP with help from NAHB’s 50+ Housing Council, which is composed of members involved in housing for people age 50 and older, and the NAHB Research Center. To earn a CAPS designation, students must complete the following eight-hour courses: CAPS I, Marketing and Communication Strategies for Aging and Accessibility; CAPS II, Design/Build Solutions for Aging and Accessibility; and Business Management for Building Professionals (some applicants may be exempt from this course). Students must pass an exam for each course and complete 12 hours of continuing education every three years.

CAPS Board of Governors Chair Scott Sevon, CGR, CAPS, GMB, CGP, GMR, managing partner with MAW Chicago LLC, Palatine, Ill., says there are about 4,500 CAPS graduates in the U.S., making it one of NAHB’s most popular designations. He adds, despite the name, CAPS graduates are trained to work on any type of special-needs project. “CAPS trains remodelers to work with people with disabilities or who have had accidents, as well as the aging.”

Sevon and his business partner, Mike Nagel, CGR, CAPS, used their CAPS training to create a business niche making homes more functional for children with cerebral palsy. Sevon explains: “It is a wonderful feeling helping a child to become an active part of the family. We’ve done that by installing track systems; the kids can put on a body harness and walk around to some extent with their siblings or their parents just by touching the ground with their feet. As these kids get older, the track systems help them get in and out of bed, off a couch, in and out of a shower/tub/commode. We’ve done track systems in probably five homes in the last two years.”

NARI’s UDCP designation has been around for three years and was developed by the organization’s certification board. “We had a brainstorming session and the outcome of it was this certification,” explains Dan Taddei, NARI’s director of education. NARI requires UDCP students to be in the industry five years before they can attend the eight-hour class, which also is available online in four two-hour sessions. Students must pass a 65-question exam and then maintain their certification with 10 hours of continuing education each year.

Taddei says the thrust of the course is the process of remodeling for special needs. He explains: “Most of the people who attend have a CR [certified remodeler designation, which provides business education], though it’s not a requirement. We don’t cover a lot of business aspects, and we don’t talk a lot about marketing other than where to source clients. Of the eight hours, probably six and a half are actually about design and remodeling.”

Taddei says the course covers the seven principles of universal design, which were created in 1997 by a working group at North Carolina State University’s Center for Universal Design, Raleigh. The principles are:

  • Equitable use—the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
  • Flexibility in use—the design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Simple and intuitive use—the design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
  • Perceptible information—the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for error—the design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  • Low physical effort—the design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
  • Size and space for approach and use—appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.

“The course focuses on how remodelers can use these concepts to make a house more accessible without making it look institutional,” Taddei adds.

Currently, there are a little more than 100 UDCPs, and it is a steadily growing certification. “People are asking for universal design,” Taddei notes. “As long as the need is out there for remodelers to help clients with their accessibility issues, there will be a need for the training.”


Remodelers who are certified as CAPS or UDCPs often hesitate to market themselves as such because they don’t want to be classified as only working with special-needs cases. In these instances, word-of-mouth and referrals often top the list of ways to generate business. Networking also can be a successful marketing strategy. For example, Graf has aligned himself with an insurance organization in his area that helps elderly people manage their assets. “I explained to the director what I do, and she said she had been looking for someone like me because there are people who come to her and need remodeling to meet their mobility needs,” Graf says.

Sevon works with banks’ trust departments and a Realtor who represents families with trusts. “There are trusts in which a child or adult was in an accident; they’ve realized a settlement of some sort; and they need to be able to live better with the disability that occurred,” Sevon explains. “That’s when trust companies will call us because they handle the affairs and incomes of the families, so the money is not spent frivolously.”

Russ Glickman, CR, CAPS, CEAC, GACP, president of Glickman Design Build, North Potomac, Md., has made connections through his 24-year-old son who was born prematurely and has cerebral palsy. “About 10 years ago I realized I can help other people who are going through what my family has gone through, so I got my CAPS and Certified Environmental Access Consulting certification, which is a little more accessibility focused [and administered by Accessible Home Improvement of America]. I get referrals from the community my son is involved in—from his doctor, physical therapist and others. People who treat my son treat other people like him. About half my business now is helping people with special needs.”

Because of his personal experience, Glickman is more inclined to market his work with special-needs clients. His website shows a photo of him with his son Mike and explains how Glickman was the primary caregiver for an aging parent. “I’ve been through all these things personally, and I made mistakes, so I can save people some steps from my own experience. This is a specialty, and it helps me stand out from competitors.”

Glickman recently hired a part-time marketing assistant to reach out to more professionals who may be able to provide him with referrals. The list includes occupational therapists, physical therapists, pediatricians who specialize in kids with special needs, speech therapists, elder-care physicians, geriatric case managers, rehab centers, social workers and financial planners. “I’ve even connected with a reverse-mortgage specialist because people can pay for a large remodel using a reverse mortgage,” he says.

Taddei knows a UDCP who markets himself as the only universal design certified professional in his area, and it has paid off. “He’s able to work with the local university and a couple local hospitals, which provide clients for him. This skill set offers you a much broader source of revenue in terms of more opportunities and prospective clients.” (To read more about marketing yourself as a UDCP, see “NARI Recertification,” May issue, page 12.)


Remodeling is a service industry that requires its professionals to be “people people.” Designing and remodeling for clients with special needs takes this service industry to another level, requiring a level of compassion traditional remodeling doesn’t elicit. “The people who embrace UDCP are passionate people,” Taddei says. “They’re passionate about the process and really like to help others. It’s a different type of remodeling, and they leverage that.”

Graf thinks all remodelers should consider providing these services because our lifespan is longer. “I’m 49 years old, and when you think about it, with technology, I could live to 110 or 115 years of age,” he says. “We’re living longer and we have a greater quality of life at an older age. It’s our duty to make houses functional so we can live in them comfortably much longer.”

Glickman advises remodelers interested in offering special-needs services to invest in a certification, read some books about universal design and ask someone to consult on their first few jobs. “I think remodelers should connect with a mentor for the first few jobs and even later if they want a second opinion about how to solve a problem.”

Glickman, Graf, Sevon and Taddei agree remodeling for someone with special needs can lead to some of the most rewarding jobs a firm undertakes. Glickman sums it up: “One of the things I like about this line of business is that you can really help these people and make a difference in their lives.”