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Universal Design Can Help People Age in Their Homes

Fewer steps, wider doors may prevent having to move

Schemata Workshop received a 2010 Livable Communities Award from AARP and the National Association of Home Builders for Daybreak, the intergenerational cohousing development she designed in Portland, Ore. The 30 townhouses and apartments are built around a shared common area. The homes feature entries without steps, lever-style door handles and durable flooring that's stroller- and wheelchair-friendly. The common space has a kitchen and dining room, a kids' playroom, laundry facilities, indoor bike parking, a yoga studio and a craft room.

By making homes more accessible for older people and those with disabilities, "you're making it easier for everybody."

By making homes more accessible for older people and those with disabilities, "you're making it easier for everybody," Kim said. "A lot of designers and architects are starting to think about it more."

Michelle Molloy, founder of Penates Design in Seattle, said the technology is changing quickly as manufacturers respond to the demand by developing universal design components such as adjustable and remote-controlled light fixtures.

Her design team won a national award last fall for her remodel of a 1960s bathroom in Snohomish, Wash.

The homeowner, Mary Waggoner, wanted to make sure her aging and disabled parents could visit but found that the small bathroom couldn't accommodate her mother's wheelchair.

Waggoner was one of two winners in last year's "Renovation Remodel Room Makeover" contest, sponsored by AARP. The renovation included slip-resistant flooring, a hands-free toilet and a walk-in shower.

"I just wanted it to be safer," she said. "It turned out that not only is it safer, but it's beautiful."

Waggoner, 63, said the modifications will have another benefit.

"I will be able to stay in that home longer than I might have been able to otherwise."

You may also like: Home Fit Guide. 

Neal Thompson is a writer living in Seattle.

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