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Universal Design Principles Showcased at International Builders Show

ORLANDO, FLORIDA – January 11, 2006 – A new national demonstration home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, planned for construction in the Columbus, OH area, was the focal point of a panel presentation at the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Annual Convention and Exposition. The International Builders’ Show is the largest building project showcase in the country, attracting more than 105,000 attendees.

Builders, Derrick Layer (C.V. Perry) and Dottie Harper (Providence of Brookfield Homes) were joined by kitchen and bath designer, Mary Jo Peterson, and home owner Rosemarie Rossetti., who is building a national demonstration universal design home. The presenters shared real-life research and reviewed what works, what sells and what the challenges are in building a home for all ages and all situations.

Mary Jo Peterson stressed “Homes designed with universal design homes principles do not need to look institutional or hospital-like, since there are many beautiful products such as grab bars with various metallic and color finishes on the market. A properly designed home need not be stigmatized as a home designed only for a person with a disability. The design differences will be noticed by the new home buyer, as soon as they enter the home, when they realize there are no steps at the front entry, and the doors are 36 inches wide. These are features that benefit everyone.”

Derrick Layer’s message to builders was, "They need to educate themselves and get on board. Builders need to take the first step forward and integrate the basic concepts of universal design into their existing floor plans." He noted that semi and custom builders have a different threshold for pricing homes with more spacious bathrooms and hallways. "It is the builder's responsibility to provide a service to their clients and they need to be educating and providing product to their customers." Layer said.

To deal with her physical limitations in a wheelchair and to help other people with mobility problems, Rossetti and her husband, Mark Leder, are designing and building a national demonstration home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory. (www.UDLL.com)

The mastermind behind the project, Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. of Rossetti Enterprises Inc., is a speaker, trainer, consultant and writer. As Ms. Wheelchair Ohio 2004, she has been a vocal advocate for people with disabilities. She has used her experience as a wheelchair user and her seven years of research into universal design principles to help builders and product designers understand the importance of designing living and working spaces. Universal design is a framework for the design of living and working spaces and products benefiting the widest possible range of people in the widest range of situations without special or separate design. Houses need to be designed so people can stay in them as long as possible, even when health conditions limit the occupants’ mobility.

Rossetti knows from personal experience the difficulties people face when circumstances change due to either injury or simply aging. Rosemarie said, "I know this situation all too well. Seven years ago, my spinal cord injury left me in a much compromised condition. I came home from the hospital in a wheelchair and realized just how unaccommodating my two-story home was to me. My life change was sudden; for others life changes more gradually. People develop chronic conditions like arthritis, get shorter as they age, and have hip and knee replacements."

Universal design housing features are important to the 78.2 million baby boomers as they age. Active adults need to think ahead to prepare for future mobility limitations. Body parts do wear out, and 20 million Americans are limited in walking, reaching, or climbing steps. Four million need help walking inside their homes. Universal design housing features will also benefit the estimated 56 million Americans living with a disability, and 1.8 million people use wheelchairs.

Rossetti believes that product manufacturers need to add more universal design features to their product lines. They also need to train their sales force that work with builders to showcase these products as possible replacements for products that do not include universal design features.

Rossetti explained that some universal design features are appearing in appliances that were on display at the NAHB exhibition. These include: frontloading washers and dryers, side-by-side refrigerators, kitchen sinks that also contain a cooking element, control dials with easy to read knobs, and side hinged doors on microwaves and ovens. Rossetti said, “I was disappointed to learn that there are only two manufacturers of ovens with side hinged doors.” For a seated user, a side hinged oven door allows closer and safer access than an oven with a bottom hinge.

Rossetti stated that designs in bathrooms are beginning to show some change toward universal design. For bathroom products there are 18 inch comfort height toilet seats; lever handles on faucets, and grabs bars built into the bathtubs. She was pleased to see shower benches and grab bars that did not look like they belonged in a nursing home.

At the Orlando exhibit, Rossetti discovered a new built in ironing center from Iron-A-Way that can be used from a seated position and would also accommodate her 6’4” tall husband.

However, universal design principles have not made it into all markets. Rossetti said, “I approached an outdoor barbecue grill during the conference and grabbed the hood handle with one hand. I was surprised to find that I could not budge it, due to the weight of the hood. Product manufacturers need to continue to bring universal design products to market.”

Here are some universal design features that these experts agree should be incorporated into floor plans and product specifications.

  • Step-free entrance (a gradual, level grade; no conspicuous ramps)
  • All doors without thresholds that are wide enough for a wheelchair or walker (36”)
  • Wider hallways (46 “)
  • Lever handles on doors and faucets
  • Various heights of kitchen counters
  • Full extension drawers and shelves in kitchen base cabinets
  • Cooktop set into a counter with open knee space
  • Side hinged microwave and oven doors at countertop height
  • Side by side refrigerator
  • Sliding casement or awning windows
  • An elevator to the basement and/or second floor
  • Lower rocker style light switches (36” above the floor)
  • Higher electrical outlets (25” above the floor)
  • Large bathroom with decorative grab bars
  • Wood, non-slip tile and a dense weave, low pile (< ½”) carpet floors
  • Large bathtubs with plenty of grab bars
  • Curbless roll in showers with plenty of grab bars
  • Slide bar for shower head
  • Hand-held, flexible shower fixture
  • 17-19” high toilet seat
  • Adjustable hanging closet rods and shelves
  • Front loading washer and dryer
  • Open knee space under all sinks


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Copyright © 2005-2016 Universal Design Living Laboratory. All rights reserverd worldwide.