Michael Edlen: Home Design for Longer Independent Living

By Michael Edlen
Special to the Palisades News

In previous articles we have reviewed many ways to enhance the quality and safety of daily living activities for seniors.

In 1997 a group of architects, engineers, product designers and environmental design researchers developed “The 7 Principles of Universal Design,” which were intended as guidelines for designing products, environments and communications.

Universal design in housing can provide greater freedom to live at home more safely and possibly for many more years.

Principle #1 Equitable Use: The home design would be useful for people with a wide range of abilities. Some of the guidelines would include providing the same means of use for everyone, having the design be appealing to all users and providing privacy, security and safety for them. 

Principle #2 Flexibility in Use: The home design should accommodate a wide range of individual preferences and activ- ities. Some of the guidelines would include sustainability for right or left-handed access and use, and facilitate the senior’s precision of movement.

Principle #3 Simple and Intuitive Use: The home features design should be easy to understand, regardless of the senior’s current concentration level. The essential guidelines are to eliminate unnecessary complexity.

Principle #4 Perceptible Information: The design should effectively convey needed information to the user, regardless of the user’s sensory abilities. The key guidelines include use of different modes (pictorial, verbal or tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information, adequate contrast between essential information and its context, maximized “legibility” of information, and the provision of a variety of devices or techniques used by people with sensory limitations.

Principle #5 Tolerance for Error: The design must minimize hazards and adverse consequences of accidental actions. Some key guidelines are to provide fail-safe features, and arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors by elimination or isolation where possible.

Principle #6 Low Physical Effort: The design should enable efficient and comfortable usage. The guidelines include the use of reasonable operating forces, minimized sustained effort or repetitive actions, and allow people to maintain neutral body positions.

Principle #7 Size and Space for Approach and Use: The design should provide enough space for reach and use regardless of the individual’s body size or mobility. The essential guidelines include providing a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user, making reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing individual, and providing adequate space for the use of any assistive devices or personal assistance.

The idea behind “universal design” as applied to a home is to focus on making it safe and accessible for everyone, regardless of age, physical ability, or height. Wider halls and doorways are some examples of how “universal design” principles align perfectly with “aging-in-place.”

So-called “smart homes” can also enable universal design benefits to people who would prefer staying in their home for many more years. Examples of products that are interconnected on the internet and controlled by smart phones include controlled temperature and lights, security cameras and sensors that will send alerts.

Michael Edlen is a certified Seniors Real Estate Specialist and may be reached at (310) 230-7373 or michaeledlen@gmail.com.

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