Reader please note: With no intended disrespect to the article's contributor, I am sharing the same comments I made on the Chicago Tribune site because while this piece is a great reference for the line of UD thinking around the country, it has a couple issues worth noting to avoid confusion about the term and example shown.
Universal Design is for everyone--but what is it?
Commenting as an advocate for universal design from the standpoint of a person who has a daughter with limited mobility and through my work in the real estate profession since 2003, I agree educating the general public about the fact that UD is for ALL is crucial but it also needs to be backed up with photos of accurate examples. In the accompanying photo, I like the rounded grab bar around the shower control but the side bar that looks like it is also doubling as the hand held shower holder has been poorly placed and out of reach for a person of short stature or someone who is seated in the shower. Plus it is in a location that is too close to the wall to comfortably grip easily and safely in the event of a slippery accident.
Another thing to be noted in the article is how it states in the first paragraph "Homeowners think Universal Design is only ADA or handicap-accessible design. Yet Universal Design can be those things and so much more." To me, this sounds like the writer is not comfortable admitting to the intended reader that UD is accessible design. Please do not mince words and create more confusion about a term that has already been pigeonholed by misconstruing it. UD is accessible design and so much more. It is design for all.
Universal Design is for everyone--but what is it?
(Posted by Walsh Communications LLC, Community Contributor)
Manufacturers now make grab bars that don't look like grab bars. Newer support materials are made to look like part of the shower component
What is Universal Design?
"Universal Design is likely the most misunderstood term in remodeling and construction," said Mimi Altman, Executive Director of NARI of Greater Chicagoland (NARIGC), based in Des Plaines.
Altman continues to say that the misconception is Universal Design is not just for the elderly but for anyone with adapting living environments. "Universal Design makes your home safe for infants becoming mobile toddlers, for those with disabilities; those with severe arthritis, those who struggle with fibromyalgia, OR any other form of physical consideration regardless of age. Homeowners think Universal Design is only ADA or handicap-accessible design. Yet Universal Design can be those things and so much more."
In 1977, architect Michael Bednar authored Barrier Free Environments which noted that the functional capability of all people is usually enhanced when environmental barriers are removed and suggested that a new concept is needed that is "much broader and more universal" and "involves the environmental needs of all users."
John Oetking, CR, UDCP, owner of Western Springs-based A Street Builders, says homeowners he is working with are not talking about Universal Design until something happens in their life where they need it.
"We remodeled a bathroom for a woman who broke her leg and at that point she realized how inaccessible her home was," said Oetking. "Our work in this area affects bathrooms, typically installing zero-threshold showers and 36" doorways. Most of the time we are remodeling existing space; with home additions we work with an architect to include a 36" doorway to the bathroom.
"Homeowners are more concerned with how it looks than whether they will need it down the road," said Oetking. "Some of the things people talk about are comfort height toilets and using levers on doors. We also suggest a fixed shower head with a handheld and a zero threshold in the shower."
Don Van Cura Sr., MCR, CKBR, CLC, GCP, UDCP, the owner and president of Chicago-based Don Van Cura Construction was in a car accident when he was out of town. "I hurt my arm and quickly realized that I was unable to open the hotel room door - this was an eye opener for me! Everything in a home should deal with human ergonomics. The height at which a person sits in front of a computer day in and day out will determine whether they develop carpel tunnel syndrome, for example."
Van Cura was part of a core group of remodeling professionals that developed the original writing of the UDCP (Universal Design Certified Professional) NARI course to certify remodelers in 2009.
Over time, the addition of hundreds of home remodeling idea magazines beyond Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping coupled with double income Baby Boomers fueled the industry with dollars and choices. Additionally, those in the market have access online to Pinterest and HOUZZ and HGTV for ideas.
"When I started in the industry we were in the Dark Ages. We did what we did and no questions were asked and available choices were nothing like they are today," said Van Cura. "Now, new materials are continually being introduced and combined with a large portion of the population getting older, people are asking for very specific things. We don't mention ADA or geriatric because it's a turnoff and they will say they don't want that!"