Designing for All - The First Steps

by Leslie Shankman-Cohn, ASID, CAPS and member of the ASID Aging in Place Council

It is important to remember that people age differently or may have different levels and manifestations of the same disability. Just because two people are 80 years old does not mean their flexibility, cognitive skills and physiology are the same. One may be able to ride a bicycle to the store, while the other may not be able to walk down the hallway unassisted. So, be aware that Individuals with seemingly similar issues might need totally different solutions. In addition, accessibility issues are highly specific to each individual’s household and usually depend on the occupant’s degree of independence in daily living. Therefore, you must really do your homework before you start to design!

In order to determine what adaptations are needed to make the home accessible, it is important to conduct an assessment of the person with regard to their physical condition and to evaluate the living space to determine what can and can not be implemented. In addition, it may be necessary to evaluate the condition of the house, asess the level of available family and community assistance, and inquire about financial assets. You will need to gather and organize information about each client by asking questions about their particular strengths and limitations, including their physical conditions, needs and medical prognoses. This may involve conversations with caregivers, healthcare providers and other specialists. Most importantly, you will need to conduct a home audit to identify if there are problems associated with everyday living in specific areas and rooms.
  
Besides listing and evaluating the actual conditions and layout of the home, other home audit questions might include:

  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with unlocking the door or using the doorknob?
  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with accessing the mailbox?
  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with walking over the threshold?
  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with getting in or out of certain pieces of furniture?
  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with using the toilet, shower or tub?
  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with reaching things in your cabinets?
  • Are there any problems or difficulties associated with tripping or walking on certain flooring surfaces and rugs?

Once the problem areas have been identified, it is now up to you to be able to decipher what is the most appropriate solution for that individual’s specific needs, now and in the foreseeable future. Define a strategy that uses the assets over time to meet the expected needs, and draft a list of possible solutions. Be prepared to explain and justify the benefits, costs and consequences of the solutions that you are recommending.

Just remember, there are a very large number of products and approaches that can be employed to meet individual needs. You can not simply assume that the same solutions will work across the board for all. Just as abilities vary from person to person, so will the correct solution.