What’s the Difference between Universal Design, Visitability and Aging in Place?

By Tammy Kaplan, CID, CAPS and Dina Leyden, PT, CAPS

If any terms we use on our website are unfamiliar, here’s a quick guide to explain why we at AIP Designs believe that making your home accessible is not just about age.

The U.S. population and that of other Western nations is aging, but that’s not the only reason to consider the design of your home. Many people have physical limitations that are not age related.

Visitability: Hosting Guests Comfortably

Let’s start with “visitability,” which refers to single-family or owner-occupied housing designed to be lived in or visited by people who have trouble with steps or who use wheelchairs or walkers.

A house is visitable if it has:

  • One entrance without any steps.
  • Doors with 32 inches of clear passage space.
  • A wheelchair-accessible bathroom on the main floor.

This simple idea was created by a woman who felt she had been limited and excluded from many places and events because of being in a wheelchair most of her life. Today a movement toward visitability is taking place. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-adelson/aging-at-home-be-the-host-with-the-most_b_5459629.html).

Universal Design Includes Everyone

“Universal Design” aka UD, came about, according to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, because architects realized that “segregated accessible features were ‘special,’ more expensive, and usually ugly. It also became apparent that many of the environmental changes needed to accommodate people with disabilities actually benefited everyone.”

Thus, UD means designing a public or private area to maximize usage, independently and naturally. For instance, placing appliances at lower levels in the kitchen so that people who are limited in their mobility, for whatever reason, can easily reach a microwave or stove. Switching out doorknobs for newer styles makes opening doors easier for everyone.

Another example in the public environment is having cut curbs, or ramps, which are necessary for wheelchairs but also have become preferred by typical pedestrians.

In practice, this just means having awareness of major obstacles that may inhibit people from using your home. If others need adaptations to use your home, they should be minimized.

Aging in Place Demanded By Aging Populations

The Centers for Disease Control defines “aging in place” as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” Aging in place strategies include expanding public transit, expanding activities for seniors in a community and improving health care. In terms of design, it means creating interiors and public spaces that use Universal Design principles as much as possible, to benefit aging adults in particular.

Benefits of Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) Training for All of the Above

We founded AIP Designs because we realized that our physical therapy experience and proven design expertise could be utilized together to create beautiful and functional environments to please and delight both seniors and their loved ones.

The first step was to obtain CAPS training from the National Association of Home Builders. In our coursework, we learned about strategies and techniques for designing and building aesthetically pleasing, barrier-free buildings. We are required to maintain this designation by attending continuing education programs and participating in community service. We also were schooled in the unique needs of the older adult population and solutions to common barriers.

We also discovered that home modification for the aging-in-place is the fastest growing area of the residential remodeling industry. This means that aging in place is gaining in popularity and thus may give your home an advantage should you sell.

We at AIP Designs hope you will consider what it would take to make your home visitable and pleasing for all your guests, current and future, and for your future needs, should you be planning to age in place.


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