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Designing for Universal Access

Until recently, people with physical disabilities have been treated as a special class requiring unusual housing to accommodate their needs. With research sponsored by the Veterans’ Administration, and especially with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emphasis has shifted from specialized facilities and housing to a design approach that integrates accessibility into public facilities, the workplace, and housing. There is growing interest in homes “for the rest of your life.” A small initial investment in accessibility and adaptability can make a home more manageable for senior citizens with diminished physical abilities, delaying the need to move into an assisted-living facility.

Before building or purchasing your next home, consider the handicap accessibility features. While designed to accommodate persons in wheelchairs, these plans serve those walking with canes and walkers. The ADA website (www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada) has downloadable drawings that show correct dimensions for all sorts of situations.

Accessible walks and ramps. ADA requirements for outdoor walkways are meant to help an able-armed person in a wheelchair to negotiate turns and inclines. Railings must be placed at the correct height so a person can grab them easily. A ramp should be smooth and free of obstructions. Concrete is preferable, but wooden ramps are also allowed. Turns must be large enough that the wheelchair can negotiate them with ease. Be sure to position a walkway so that a disabled person can open the door.

Accessible sink. A wide assortment of ADA-approved fixtures and special covers ensure that a disabled person can wheel up to a sink and reach the controls without bumping his or her knees on the plumbing.

Accessible toilet. A high-rise toilet brings the seat more closely in line with wheelchair height for an easy transfer. A grab bar, firmly fastened to wall studs, aids the process.

Accessible tub. Equip a tub with an ADA-approved handheld sprayer, a pivot seat that lets the user swing into the tub, and a grab bar. Place controls within easy reach.

Accessible shower. Equip the shower with a no-lip floor, a handheld sprayer, accessible controls, and a nonslip seat (18-inch minimum width).

Accessible kitchen. In a well-designed kitchen, a disabled person can prepare food, cook, and clean up afterwards. Special ADA-approved appliances make installation not much more difficult than for a standard kitchen. An accessible counter is narrower than a standard counter. The stove is also narrow, with staggered burners for easy access.

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