Universal Design: And Liberty For All…

Independence is America’s heritage and the 4th of July is a holiday that celebrates the will, courage, spirit and the soul of our nation.  It is when we honor our “declaration” and our liberation from oppression, the establishing of independence, values and noble aspirations through the gathering of family and friends as we are bonded by our common and universal liberty!

According to the dictionary liberty is defined as:

“the quality or state of being free; the power to do as one pleases; freedom from limitation; the positive enjoyment of various rights and privileges; the power of choice! freedom!”

This last weekend was a great time for me to reflect on these words and feelings, as I was trying to compose my first contribution to this blog.  As is the case often when multiple generations come together to celebrate, I had yet another opportunity to witness the enriching benefit — not only to myself — but to the community as a whole, that the companionship, experience and wisdom of seniors brings.

Loss of Freedoms

Many seniors, however, feel like they’ve lost their liberty, freedom of choice and independence as they age, even in their own homes.  In fact many are having to consider staying in their own homes longer due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the current downturn in the economy. And yet in order to do so, modifications are needed for them to remain there in comfort and safety.

Unsurprisingly when asked, people as a whole just want to stay home and families want to stay together. In fact, according to a recent study by AARP, “83% of today’s Boomers  aged 55-64 plan to age in place.”  And yet an essential component of this trend, the use of universal design to accommodate aging in place, is still as infrequently applied in the residential arena today as it was in 1994 when I graduated from design school!

What is Universal Design?

Universal design is a philosophy to create through conscious awareness appropriate living environments, places and products that everyone can use safely and comfortably regardless of their changing needs overtime as they age.  It strives to be responsive to the needs of as many people as possible, regardless of age, mobility, gender, race, language or economic status – thus the word “universal!”

In fact, everyone can benefit from incorporating universal design into their projects. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, able or disabled, building a new home or making changes to your existing one.

Universal Design Features

Some basic universal design features include step-free entrances, wide enough interior doorways, corridors and passage ways.  For example, a floor plan where a bedroom, kitchen, some entertainment space and at least one full bathroom with maneuvering space for a wheelchair or walker enables in-home care.  It also enables a caregiver to effectively perform their duties.

In upcoming blogs we will explore the many issues surrounding the concept of aging in place.  We’ll look at its many definitions as it applies to one’s own home, downsizing, continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), other venues for long term or transitional care.

We’ll also look at the growing trend of making our homes “visitable” or designed in such a way that it can be lived in or visited by people who have trouble with steps or who use wheelchairs or walkers.  We’ll look at the different ways universal design can create for everyone their own Independence Day!

photo credit: Raad Ghantous

About the Author: Raad Ghantous is the principal of Raad Ghantous & Associates and is an expert in luxury hospitality, wellness centers, and medical & day spa developments.  He is also the owner of Your Home For A Lifetime, an A.D.A/ Barrier-free/ Universal design/Aging in place, full service design/build firm with over 15 years of experience  specializing in developing integrating elegant and seamless designs/modifications to new or existing structures.

  • Carla Calazans

    Very well said, Raad!!
    When we get to a situation where there is no more power of choice but a necessity of freedom we realize that what should be universal design is not known or used that much. Disability can be a temporary condition. Aging is not a choice – we wish- but a fact. Let`s think hard, discuss about freedom, choices and our UNIVERSAL future. But let`s do it now.

  • http://www.NewportBeachMobileNotary.com Judi

    Excellent! My best, best friend (friends since we were 14 years old) has MS, and is scooter-dependent. As we watched her mobility deteriorate, starting with needing a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair, and now a scooter, we also saw the challenges get greater and greater just to go from place to place, whether in her own home, or in and out of public buildings, family’s and friends’ homes, etc.

    Now, back to Michael Jackson’s memorial, who didn’t have to die yet… he died because of prescription drugs… something I want to see change in this country! Too many people are dying because of drugs – and not recreational drugs, but PRESCRIPTION drugs, actually approved by the murderous FDA!

    Thanks for caring so much.

    Stay healthy….

  • Raad Ghantous

    Indeed Carla! and you do bring up a specific issue that is often passed over when most people think of A.D.A requierments..in that Disability can also be a temporary condition and so homes should be designed/built in such a way that even when a active kid lets simply say breaks a leg or hurts themselves playing a sport the y can still be use the house effectivly. In this situation having a downstairs bedroom and bath in the house isn’t just a precaution to when the home owners age but also a temporary sleeping and washing area for the kids that are being raised in the home and a great place for Grand parents to come stay!

  • Raad Ghantous

    Thanks for sharing your personal refrence and the story of your friend. Indeed it is hard enough for her to deal with her condition as it is that loss of quality of life in her built environment is a further blow and devistating..and yet at the very least some of that something can be done about with the help of qualified and sensitive professionals. I find in many cases our brothers and sisters who are differently abled or challenged just want to be treated the same as anyone else and like all of us prefer to be delt with with simple dignity and valued as a person…addressed by our first name and not seen for our “inabilities”.

  • http://www.insideeldercare.com/quality-of-care/3-ways-good-design-can-help-people-who-have-dementia/ 3 Ways Good Design Can Help People Who Have Dementia

    [...] the use of colors and lighting, to making it easy to perform daily tasks, helping you to plan a suitable environment for your loved one, or to identify a care home designed for the needs of people with [...]