(Copied with permission from the author. Original article: http://www.working-man.com/index.php/2020/06/05/a-plea-for-removing-barriers-from-home-design/)
Merriam-Webster defines technology as “the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area”. Our homes are great examples of technology: they are structures that shelter is from the elements and give us space to perform the tasks of living. Technology is good to the extent that it enables us to do what we want to do. I want to draw attention to a weakness present in the design of most homes: they are full of barriers that hamper or prevent use by those of us not fully mobile.
To illustrate, I will quote from Robert Murphy’s “The Body Silent”:
Our next-door neighbor came out to greet me, and he and Bob carried me in the wheelchair up the seven steps to the front door. It was clear that I had to find a better way of getting in and out, or the house would become my prison.
Here are some of the most common barriers I have seen in my area:
When we apply ourselves to making a design, we do it according to the priorities we choose (and remember). The barriers I am talking about don’t cost much to remove at the design stage in many cases, they are just overlooked by people who have no mobility challenges of their own. Narrow hallways and doors can seem an acceptable way to conserve space and expense when there is no thought of it preventing an owner or their loved one access. I hope by shining a spot light on this vital issue that the excuse of ignorance will soon expire.
The design philosophy I am advocating for is called universal design. Universal design is defined as “the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.” It should not be overt or look like “institutional chic”, it should be beautiful, feel like home, and be easy for everyone to use. The philosophy is flexible in how it can be applied with different styles. I recommend the “Accessibility is Beautiful” series produced by the Cerebral Palsy Foundation to see some of it in use. A page I have compiled for our business (“Designing for Accessibility“) has further resources.
In the end, my dream is for our homes to be refreshing places of rest and comfort. I don’t want them to ever become obstacle courses for anyone.
Today, many people are interested in building accessibility into their new homes. This is a step in the right direction: not only is it more economical on the front end, it ends up being more comfortable and convenient for everyone. I am bothered, however, by a suspicion that many that are interested in accessibility are only doing it part way while they think they are doing it all. Did you know only approximately 1% of homes in the US are fully wheelchair accessible? Even partial accessibility is an improvement, but sometimes it wouldn’t take much more effort to go all the way and have a truly accessible home. Since some of you are or will be drawing your own plans, I wanted to share something with you. The guidelines in these videos are the basics, but it might surprise you with things you didn’t know. Enjoy.