Oh Give Me a Home Where I Can Age in Place Is your home user friendly? That's a question for anyone who's aging (OK, so basically everyone) as well as people with disabilities. The answer lies in a movement called "universal design."

Oh Give Me a Home Where I Can Age in Place

Text and images should be large and high-contrast on appliances around the home. Center for Universal Design hide caption

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Center for Universal Design

Is your home user friendly?

That’s a question for people with disabilities as well as for anyone who's aging (OK, so basically everyone).

The answer lies in a movement called "universal design."

Universal design aims to make products, services and living environments more suitable both for aging and disabled Americans. It has principles, which are spelled out by the Center for Universal Design.

These principles lead to safe, user-friendly products that everyone can use, to avoid stigmatizing or segregating those who need them.

On a practical level, universal design calls for brighter lights, safer stairs, symmetrical scissors (for righties and lefties) and other accommodations. The goal is to allow your family and friends to enjoy your home for years to come. For example...

See Better

Vision problems can complicate simple tasks like reading, cooking, cleaning and moving around your home. Install lights that will make it easier to read and do chores in different parts of your home. Take advantage of natural light when possible, for example, installing a skylight to illuminate a dark room.

You can also buy home appliances with pictures, words and tactile information on dials and keypads. Text and images should be high-contrast.

Feel Better

Some people may have or develop difficulty sensing hot and cold. To help avoid accidents, bathroom supply companies now make valves that limit water temperature from shower or bathtub faucets. Other safeguards include covers for stove burners and guards that fit over radiators.

Prevent Accidents

To avoid missing a stair, use different shades of wood or carpeting for risers and treads. Consider soft, nonskid surfaces on bathtub bottoms, or new, competitively priced “soft” bathtubs, made of pliable but non-porous polyurethane-covered foam to reduce the dangers of slipping. Comfy, too!

An Open Door (and Drawer) Policy

As we age, arthritis may make it more difficult to grip, twist or turn doorknobs, faucet handles and lids. Levered handles, which you push down to open, can be installed on doors, cabinets, drawers and sinks.

Give Yourself a Break

If standing in front of a counter or sink becomes too tiring, you can hire a carpenter to create a cutout space underneath. The space will make room for a stool or wheelchair while you, say, wash dishes or prepare food. And if you don't have a garbage disposal or trash compactor, you might want to install the appliances. They'll reduce the number of trips to the trash bin as well as the bulkiness of your trash bags.

Plan Ahead

If building or remodeling your home, consider building wide doorframes that allow at least 36 inches of clearance for wheelchairs and walkers. Locate a bathroom and a bedroom on the ground floor, with roll-in or walk-in showers.

Don't Overreach

Most people are comfortable reaching into appliances or cupboards that are 27 to 48 inches above the floor, and a maximum of 20 inches deep. Keep those guidelines in mind when installing switches, outlets and thermostats. Easy-access appliances include side-by-side refrigerator-freezers and front-loading washers and dryers. Then there's retrofitting -- like installing lazy susans in corner cabinets and refrigerators. You might also want to construct work surfaces at different heights to suit the heights and abilities of your whole family.