Your Health

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep, good morning.

In Your Health today, we'll report on homes that worked for you in spite of your health. The idea is to design places where people can continue to live even through old age, disabilities, or disease.

In a moment, we'll learn about homes for poor people with asthma. We begin with something called universal design. That's the idea that where we live and the technology and products we used should be designed so they're easy to use for everyone.

NPR's Joseph Shapiro got a tour of one model of universal design in Phoenix, Maryland.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: Dave Ward meets me in his wheelchair on the long porch that wraps around his house, the place he calls Future Home.

Mr. DAVE WARD (Resident, Phoenix, Maryland): This house was built in 1855. It was built as a tavern and inn. And it served the horse and buggy trade that traveled from Baltimore, Maryland to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

SHAPIRO: The house is historic, but it mixes the old with the futuristic. At the entrance, there are no stairs to block his wheelchair, just a remade smooth path from the parking spot for Ward's van.

To get into the door to the house, there's no lock and key. Instead, there's a number pad. With the pointer attached to his hand, Ward can punch in a security code and the automatic door swings open.

(Soundbite of door opening)

Mr. WARD: Let's go in here.

SHAPIRO: Ward lived here before the accident that caused his quadriplegia. Now he's redesigned the house so his personal care attendant can live upstairs. And the downstairs, where Ward lives, is a showcase of universal design.

He's built it so he can live as independently as possible. But it's also a model for other disabled people, and more and more, the elderly. Architects, designers, and consumers come from around the world to get ideas.

Mr. WARD: We've come in to the kitchen. And I just turned the lights on in the kitchen, using a remote control. This kitchen is built so it has multiple-level work surfaces

KUHN: So there are two sinks in the kitchen island of blue and pink tile - one sink for standing, one sink for sitting.

Mr. WARD: Many people can't stand long enough to do an entire task, for example, cooking, or washing dishes, or cleaning vegetables. And they may want to sit.

SHAPIRO: That's why the stovetop can be raised or lowered. The cabinet with dishes, too. It comes down like an elevator.

(Soundbite of cabinet)

Lots of things in this house move at the touch of a button. Curtains open and shut. There's even a long coffee table that can be raised until it becomes the dining room table.

Ward says the technology exists to do all of this. It's just that people don't think of putting it in a house.

Mr. WARD: My favorite part of the house is probably my study.

SHAPIRO: From his study, Ward works as a consultant on design. Simply by speaking into his computer, he can control his environment.

Mr. WARD: Listen to me.

SHAPIRO: He can turn on the lights, the fan, the TV.

Mr. WARD: Main menu.

(Soundbite of computer)

Mr. WARD: Study TV. TV power.

(Soundbite of television)

Mr. WARD: Softer.

SHAPIRO: If you did not have all this technology, all these devices, what would your life be like?

Mr. WARD: Well, I can tell you, because I lived it for quite awhile. Coming home from a rehab facility, moving into - back into mom's house. It was mom, can you take me outside? Mom, can you bring me in? Mom, can you turn the fan on? Mom, can you turn the fan off?

On and on and on, can you imagine what kind of pressure that is on an individual? And how simple, the technology is that we were using today to do all those things that mom used to do for me.

SHAPIRO: These devices add to the cost of a house. But Ward says it's not as much as you might think, especially as more companies make more of these devices. Ward says when he built the house 14 years ago, it cost about $46,000 to put in all these devices. He says the same systems could be installed today for just a fraction of that - for less than $9,000.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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