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Archive for the ‘Universal Design’ Category

Do you need modifications to your home because of injury, illness, or just plain aging and a desire to stay in your home, eliminating obstacles that may exist to doing so, but don’t think you can afford them?

First of all, many modifications may cost far less than you might expect, because they often don’t need to be as extensive or labor-intensive as you might imagine, and can actually be quite simple.

For example, sometimes all that is needed to ensure wheelchair accessibility may be to remove the moldings from around your doors and finish off the opening without them, and maybe either add new doors that fit the enlarged opening better, or in some cases, dispense with them altogether.  This alone can add a couple of inches of width to the doorway that can make all the difference, without getting into major remodeling.

And in places like the bathroom, as long as you can get the chair in there (which the door width may be the only obstacle to), depending on your particular situation, all you might need to be able to shower or bathe on your own might be a transfer bench and grab bars – although of course, you could certainly also opt do a full remodel with a wheel-in shower, step-in tub, and many other helpful aids that can be created in a way that no one else needs to know their purpose if you prefer.

Your best bet to determine what will serve your needs the best in a way that will fit your budget will be to consult a professional with the CAPS (Certified Aging in Place Specialist) designation to find out what’s necessary and possible, and to get a realistic idea of what it will cost.  You can search for an appropriate professional in your area via the National Association of Home Builders CAPS Directory.  CAPS specialists are specifically trained to manage the changes needed in the residential built environment in order for people to age comfortably and safely in their own homes – and that same training applies to both accessible and universal design as well.

If you have an occupational or physical therapist, you might want to involve them in the process as well, even if they have not already done a home visit, so that your needs and the specific obstacles in your home are most appropriately identified from a medical/functional perspective, leaving the design professionals to create a solution that best implements those requirements in the most aesthetically-pleasing way possible within your budget constraints.

Accessible design is created for people with specific, known needs, and universal design is a more general concept that allows people of a range of ages and abilities to function well together in the same space, anticipating potential needs along with addressing actual existing ones.   They overlap with each other, and both overlap with aging-in-place.

If aesthetics is important to you (and it should be, because that greatly impacts your enjoyment of your home), start with an interior designer or architect who is CAPS-certified, and hire a contractor who also holds the designation for the optimal combination of design and construction knowledge.  No one wants to – or needs to – live in a home that looks institutional in order for it to function well for physical needs.

Some contractors, although far from all, may have some training in interior and/or architectural design, so unless you know you only need or want the most basic of changes like functional grab bars and/or stair glides, the best outcomes in any renovation or new construction project will usually come from hiring a team that works together to address not just the technical issues but also the aesthetic ones, and not just the physical house issues, but also furnishings, color, lighting, etc., all of which can also be modified as necessary to address various types of disabilities, including normal age-related vision loss.

Most designers and architects will meet with you initially at no charge to explain their services, find out generally what your needs, budget, and preferences are, and to make a proposal, so don’t be afraid to call one even if you think you can’t afford our services.  If it does turn out to be more than you want to spend to hire one to do the whole project, many, myself included, will also work on an hourly consultation basis to give you advice, review contractors’ plans before the proposed modifications are built, etc.

Finally, when it does come time to do whatever work needs to be done, if you find that you really can’t afford them on your own, you may be able to locate some surprising sources of help in funding the modifications.

While it is beyond the scope of this blog – and indeed the scope of any design or construction trade professional – to offer specific advice about financial assistance, or its appropriateness for any specific situation or type of situation, I would like to share some resources that you can investigate on your own.  Please do consult with your own financial, tax, and legal advisors to determine the impacts and pros and cons of any financial options you may be considering.  In some situations, there might even be tax breaks associated with such modifications that might increase their affordability, but again, please do consult your own advisors for details.

One place to start, certainly, is asking your bank about a loan, and another is to ask your accountant and/or attorney about any sources they may know of.  Likewise, your church, synagogue, or other house of worship might be able to suggest or offer assistance through either that particular facility or through the religion’s local or national agencies and charities.  Fraternal organizations might have options as well, if you belong to one.

The Our Parents blog (which is a wonderful general resource for information about aging in general, and caring for older adults) also has a nice article on where to turn to seek financial aid with an assortment of links that will help you research options in your area, or that apply to your particular circumstances.

Don’t be put off by the name of the blog or references to aging and seniors if you are not of that “certain age”, as many of these agencies might also have programs that could benefit younger people as well if they have significant disabilities, and the blog certainly has information that would be beneficial to people with other disabling conditions.  They also have a nice article with other links about the possible pitfalls of reverse mortgages, which many people think of, and which may or may not be appropriate for a given situation.

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Image from Sparkly Like a Holiday

OK, I admit it.  I’m stealing this topic from Paul Anater, over at Kitchen and Residential Design.  But I’m not going to say the same things.

Yes, I quite agree that chalkboard paint is overdone – and way overdone in several of the images he shows.  It’s old.  It’s boring.  It’s dated.  There are clearly limits to its usefulness, safety, and definitely to its appearance.  Not only can it be toxic when it gets into your food as Paul mentions, but chalk dust can also be a major problem for people who have allergies, asthma, or chemical sensitivities, so it would not foster an accessible design for people who suffer from such afflictions.  It would also violate universal and visitability design principles, as it could create a similar hazard for other users of the space, particularly visitors whose sensitivities might be unknown.  Chalk dust doesn’t do anything for overall air quality, either, so that lowers the green design reusability quotient of the paint, never mind what the VOC content of it might be.

Now that we’ve looked at the potential health hazards, let’s focus more on the visual elements.

Looking at the images Paul posted, the ones that really offend me the most are the refrigerator fully covered in the dreadful green version of the paint, that huge, frightening expanse of black wall and door, and yes, that hideous kitchen. (more…)

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I just saw this amazing inspirational video that I had to share.  Whenever you are down in the dumps, feeling sorry for yourself, thinking you can’t go on, or that you’ve got major problems, watch this video and see if it doesn’t change your perspective.  These two young men are completely amazing, and the friendship between them should be an inspiration to all just by itself.  Our lives would all be so much richer – and the world more peaceful – if we had more people sharing the kind of close friendship and caring for each other that they have.

Outside the Lines/Carry On

And, as somewhat of a side note, and just to make this specifically interior design related, look at the living conditions that Leroy has to deal with – a situation that by itself would stop most people in their tracks.

These kinds problems can be averted by good advance planning and application of universal design techniques while you are still healthy, as well as specifically accessible design planning to help someone with particular, known changes in ability.

For that matter, the very fact that Leroy’s buddy has to carry him various places in public could be changed if we focussed on making all public places as accessible to the disabled/differently abled as possible as well.  Accessible/universal design shouldn’t be limited to the few who know about it, or to the wealthy who can afford to hire a designer; it should be just the way that everything is designed.  It should be the norm in our society to build so that everyone can access public places as well as housing, without being made to feel different, and without calling attention to the measures taken to allow this.

It’s a shame that people who are low income as these two are have to put up with the challenges of inaccessible housing in particular.

Fortunately, there are actually funds available from various sources, as well as tax credits, that can help people modify their homes if necessary, particularly low income people, which could make all the difference in their lives and ability to remain in and continue to enjoy their homes. Ramps, lifts, grab bars, etc. don’t have to necessarily cost a fortune, especially with this kind of assistance. In future blog posts, I’ll go a bit more into these options, and the Centers for Independent Living can help, along with knowledgeable interior designers, but you should consult your tax advisor in any event for the specifics and how they might apply to your particular situation.

I’m really appalled, actually, that the occupational therapists who must have worked with Leroy throughout his recovery didn’t find a way to make these arrangements for him.

And Leroy, if you happen to come across this, contact me and I’ll do my best to help you find the assistance you need to give you these options.

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