Recently, Nan Fischer talked a bit about universal design, which is an approach to design that allows occupants of varying ability to live comfortably in a given space together. It’s a pretty big area of concern as our populations get older, and as the instances of multi-generational living are increasing.
So, to talk more about this issue, and with an emphasis on how to balance interior design style and practical accessibility, here’s writer Daniel Frank on how to incorporate accessibility into a stylish space.
Age and disability are unfortunately not subjects often associated with style and fashion. This is slowly changing and the current trend for minimalism may offer a boost to creating accessible but stylish homes. A lot has been written on the practical side of making homes accessible, but a strictly utilitarian focus can be not only unattractive but also dehumanizing.
Designing for the disabled and elderly
So how can you design for the disabled and elderly? Well you design for humans in all of our forms and shapes. There are a huge variety of issues that can affect how we interact with our environment and what different people require varies from person to person.
For example a wheelchair user will benefit from low surfaces with space underneath. The same design will be problematic for a tall person with a bad back. Having said that there are also some basic tips and tricks such as installing lever handled taps and door handles which will make life easier for everyone. (Unless you have a jacket with forward opening pockets at just the wrong height like I have.)
Accessibility and design: steps and stairs
Stairs are incredibly useful, if you live in any house that has more than one floor. They are easier for most people to climb than ramps and far more efficient. They can also be incredibly problematic and not just for people with wheelchairs. I’m sure everyone reading this has stubbed a toe on a step at some point in their lives.
For people who are partially sighted, need to use walkers or have other issues with walking then any step presents a serious trip hazard. Stairs present an even greater hazard, not only because people may fall down them, but also because they can be incredibly tiring to climb.
Steps can be removed or covered by ramps to allow for a smooth transition. Whilst temporary and portable ramps can be kept out of the way it is also possible to build permanent ramps which match the landscaping. Unfortunately you need to have a ratio of at least 12 inches length for every inch that the ramp rises, preferably more, which means it is unlikely you’ll be able to replace your stairs with one.
Hallways need to be well lit and wide (Ideally 48” or more, but 36” is workable) to allow room for walkers and wheelchairs to turn around. They should also be free of loose rugs and any other tripping hazards. Laminate wood flooring can create a stylish and bright surface but would need an anti-slip coating.
Having said that shag pile should definitely be avoided if you live with someone who uses a wheelchair, or wheeled walker.
Stylish bathrooms with non-slip surfaces
In no other room is anti-slip flooring so important. Textured surfaces such as tiling and vinyl are probably the safest options. Of these tiling offers the greatest range of colors and sizes making it easier to provide a safe non slip surface. Unfortunately you may also need to install grab bars so that if someone does slip, then they can break their fall and make it easier for wheel chair users to move around the bathroom.
While the white plastic option can give you an unfortunate clinical look, you can also get more stylish steel and chrome options. Or, natural stone or creamy, textured porcelain tile are also options.
Kitchens for accessible living
The main issue with kitchens is height. For smaller people or wheelchair users the standard height of work surfaces is dangerously high, putting hot objects such as kettles, pots and pans at head height or above the user means there is a much higher risk of spills. This means that low work surfaces with space for a chair to fit underneath are a huge help. Most standard surfaces can be lowered to make them more accessible, though it can involve a lot of work.
Similarly drawers and cabinets should come with pull out options to allow users to simply pull them out and reach down, rather than needing to lean over to get more access. Fortunately these changes can be made to most standard kitchens, meaning that there is no need to sacrifice style for accessibility.
Daniel Frank is writing on behalf of Stannah who provide a range of stairlifts and lifts including reconditioned stairlifts.