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The Rising Importance of Universal Design for the Home and Workplace

Monday , October 7 , 2019

The Rising Importance of Universal Design for the Home and Workplace

As we all know from our everyday experiences, most homes and workplaces are not designed to suit all people. In fact, most standard designs are intended for young, fit people of able body and mind. But the human population is very diverse – and, as disability activists remind us, at best we are all “temporarily abled.”

With each passing birthday, our vision and hearing become a little bit weaker. Eventually, our mobility and muscular strength will start to go as well. We will all face these issues – they’re just a normal part of aging.

Universal design in the home and workplace isn’t just for a subgroup of people who already have health or mobility issues – it’s for all of us. We must create environments which respect the fact that different people have different needs.

What is Universal Design?

UD creates a more welcoming and usable space for all people – with and without disabilities. The easy designs provide a more accessible world for everyone. One common example is curb cuts on public sidewalks: Yes, they are helpful for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices. But they are also useful for mothers pushing strollers, travelers with rolling suitcases, or children on bicycles.  

According to the University of Buffalo,

“Universal design means planning to build physical, learning and work environments so that they are usable by a wide range of people, regardless of age, size or disability status.  While universal design promotes access for individuals with disabilities, it also benefits others.”

UD creates a more welcoming and usable space for all people – with and without disabilities. The easy designs provide a more accessible world for everyone. One common example is curb cuts on public sidewalks: Yes, they are helpful for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices. But they are also useful for mothers pushing strollers, travelers with rolling suitcases, or children on bicycles.

 

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

In 1997, a committee of 10 people, under the leadership of architect Ron Mace, wrote the seven principles of universal design. Today, these norms still act as the gold standard:

  1. Equitable Use. The design is useful to individuals with varying levels of ability. It provides the same means of use to all people (identical when possible, equal when not) and avoids segregating or stigmatizing.
  1. Flexibility in Use. The design accommodates people with a wide range of personal preferences and abilities. For example, it can accommodate right or left-handed access and adapts to a user’s individual pace.
  1. Simple and Intuitive Use. The use of design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or level of concentration. It eliminates unnecessary complications, offers intuitive design, and provides feedback and suggestions.
  2. Perceptible Information. The designs communicates necessary information to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or their sensory abilities. It uses different modes of communication (text, verbal, pictorial), maximizes “legibility” of information, and provides compatibility with a variety of devices used by people with sensory limitations. 
  1. Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. It provides warnings of hazards and errors, includes fail safe features, and discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance. 
  1. Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. It allows users to maintain a neutral body position and minimizes repetitive actions and sustained physical effort. 
  1. Size and Space for Approach and Use. The design provides appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. It offers a clear line of sight to important elements, makes reaching to all components comfortable, and provides adequate space for the use of assistive devices – for seated or standing users.

Universal Design in the Real World

Even when the principals of universal are explained, they can be difficult to understand. In layman’s terms, it all boils down to ONE thing: The building, product, or service can be used by ALL people. Here are some illustrative examples:

  • A walk-in shower or one with no doors
  • An easy-to-press button to open an automatic door
  • Buttons or controls that can be distinguished by touch, shape, or location
  • Sinks located at different heights in a public restroom
  • Lever handles to open doors, rather than traditional knobs
  • Adaptive lighting that comes on when someone enters the room
  • Text paired with audio and diagrams for ease of understanding
  • Safety features such as non-slip floor tiles
  • Appliance, such as a microwave or coffee maker, than can be turned on with one touch

Final Thoughts

Universal Design isn’t just for the elderly or permanently disabled. As the baby boomer generation ages, there is greater need for accommodative facilities. With UD, aging in place IS possible – without sacrificing comfort or aesthetics.

Posted in: Aging

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Older Adults Face Unique Challenges as Summer Turns to Fall

Tuesday , October 1 , 2019

Older Adults Face Unique Challenges as Summer Turns to Fall

Happy Autumn! The switch from summer to fall is a welcome change for most people. Cool mornings and warm afternoons. Crisp nighttime air. Falling leaves and pumpkin flavored everything. It’s glorious!

But while the rest of us are reveling in the fact that it’s finally hoodie season, seniors are facing several unique challenges to their health and wellness. Fall is not only the unofficial start of flu season, but the colder weather offers many hazards of its own.

By following the below tips, older adults and their caregivers can begin to craft a safety plan for the autumn season. After all, being proactive is one of the best ways to avoid unnecessary illness or injury!

Ward off seasonal illness. The flu can not only worsen existing conditions, but seniors are at greater risk for flu-related illnesses such as pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that adults aged 65 and older get a flu vaccine each year, ideally by the end of October. In addition, they also suggest washing hands with warm water and soap several times a day, for at least 20 seconds at a time.

Prepare your cold-weather wardrobe. According to the National Institutes of Health, older adults are especially vulnerable to hypothermia because their body’s response to cold can be diminished by underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, certain medications, and aging itself. Hypothermia can occur at temperatures as high as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (or higher if the weather is wet and windy). To help stay warm, older adults should dress in layered, loose clothing and wear a hat when going outside.

Schedule pre-winter heating maintenance. Experts recommend that older adults keep their indoor temperature at a minimum of 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the fall and winter months. Before it gets super cold outside, call in a maintenance person (or knowledgeable loved one!) to make sure your heating system is in good working order. If your home includes a fireplace, make sure to also have the chimney and flu inspected and cleaned to limit the risk of an (unintentional) fire.

Get ready for ice and snow. In many states (including New Jersey), it’s not unusual to get snowy, icy winter weather during the autumn months – and slippery stairs and walkways can spell certain disaster. Make sure you have shovels, salt or ice melt, and car brushes on hand in the event of any early winter weather. If you’re unable to safely handle snow removal tasks on your own, now is the time to arrange for a neighbor or friend to be on call.

Be aware of slip/fall hazards. Autumn comes with shorter days and colder weather: A lethal combo. Not only is it dark out early, potentially limiting visibility – but cold weather can make muscles and joints stiff and difficult to move. Pair those conditions with slippery, wet leaves, and you have a serious fall risk. Be sure to remove fallen leaves from porches, walkways, and sidewalks regularly to help avoid any slipping hazards. In addition, make sure key areas are illuminated at night if you go out during the evening hours.

Protect your skin. The cooler, windy air of autumn, along with the dry indoor air caused by heating systems, can seriously damage elderly skin. Seniors already have dryer, thinner skin by nature and it’s far more fragile than younger adults’. To avoid aggravating conditions such as eczema or seborrheic dermatitis, make sure to moisturize regularly, drink plenty of fluids, and keep skin protected from the elements (don’t forget, you need sunscreen, no matter how cold it is outside!)

Final Thoughts

No matter the situation, creating a strategy and being prepared are integral parts of elder care.  If you are a senior yourself, or you care for someone who is, being ready for the changing seasons is key to avoiding unnecessary sickness or injury. If you are unable to care for yourself or afford the bare necessities (heat, electricity) to get you through the colder months, there are agencies that can help.

For more information, contact:

Eldercare Locator
1-800-677-1116 (toll-free)
https://eldercare.acl.gov

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
National Energy Assistance Referral Hotline (NEAR)
1-866-674-6327 (toll-free)
energyassistance@ncat.org
https://liheapch.acf.hhs.gov/help

National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
1-202-872-0888
info@n4a.org
www.n4a.org

Posted in: Aging

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