Next Generation Homes
Universal Design, Accessibility &
"First we shape our
houses, then they shape us." - Winston Churchill
Life is change. The human condition is about
change and adapting to change. So, would you prefer a home environment that
helps you change for the better, or for the worse?
Larger home builders
build for a specific market, defined primarily by age and income. If you're
young and starting out in life, you fit in one kind of box. Later on, when
you're older and more affluent, they have another kind of box for you. When you
reach retirement, there's yet another box.
However, there are other
changes that happen in life. Like millions of Americans each year, you could
end up in an auto accident, or become injured from a fall, or get thrown from a
horse, like Christopher Reeve did. You might wind up in a wheelchair or a
variety of other circumstances limiting your mobility.
If you and yours
are fortunate, you might live long and grow old, old enough that things that
used to be ordinary to you, like going up and down stairs, or getting in and
out of the bath tub or even going down the hallway and through doorways, become
more challenging because of the way your home is designed.
that matter, what about your parents, relatives, friends, neighbors and other
people in your life? If they go through changes like that, are they going to be
able to visit you any more? Could your home accommodate their changing
Statistics show that most people can count on suffering
some form of disability during the course of their lives. In fact, it is now
understood that our abilities, or inabilities, are heavily influenced by our
surroundings. Our living environments play a major role in improving or
limiting not only our physical abilities, but state of mind and overall
well-being. Movereover, things change.
The experience of millions of
people shows that houses built the old way are not very adaptable. It's not
easy to widen existing doorways and hallways, rearrange or expand the size of
bathrooms and kitchens, re-do floor plans, install ramps and lifts. Even
something as conceptually simple as installing grab bars for the tub or toilet
could end up involving tearing down and rebuilding walls.
reasons, millions of Americans each year sell their homes and buy another one.
They find they or the people important to them no longer fit in the box. They
need a new one. In fact, for years, statistics have shown that the average
American changes homes more frequently than he or she changes cars.
There has got to be a better way of doing things. Happily, there is.
It's called ...
Eventually, enough people
asked the question, Why not design and build the house
right in the first place? Why not adapt the house to us, rather than
making us adapt to the house? Why not make doorways and hallways and bathrooms
wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? Why not make entries to the house
easier for all of us to go through, without tripping over steps? Why not add a
little reinforcing in a few places in bathroom walls so you can easily install
grab bars? Why not choose doorknobs, faucet handles and light switches that are
easier for everyone to use? In fact, wouldn't these make things better for all
The answer to these questions is summed up in a set of better
building practices called Universal Design. Universal Design is simply about
designing houses as if people matter. It's about adapting houses to people,
including the differences between people and the changes people go through.
It's about making houses more broadly functional and adaptable by design, so
different or changing circumstances won't force you to buy a new house and
move. It anticipates changes in life and prepares for them. It provides you,
your family and friends with the opportunity to enjoy your home under any
progress has been made on this in Tucson in recent years, thanks to the
Tucson Commission on Disability Issues
(CODI). After asking such questions themselves, researching progress elsewhere
and years of effort evaluating the situation locally, the commission proposed
adding a few basic elements of universal design principals to the building
Wait a minute, some people said. What is this going to cost? Won't
this add substantially to the cost of homes? What about affordability? The
Pima County Board of Supervisors listened to those questions and decided
to find out. They commissioned an independent study to determine what the
additional cost would be. When the study found that such measures would add
less than $100 to the price of a typical new home, but could cost over one
hundred times more than that to retrofit a house, the decision was easy.
In 2002, the Pima County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the
Inclusive Home Design Ordinance. Click here
for details on this important new code section, the first in the
Thanks to the leadership of CODI and Pima County, people who buy
new homes built under county codes now have greater accessibility built in to
their homes. However, the City of Tucson has yet to pass the new code, so when
looking for a new home, you should ask if it was built to those standards. When
designing and building your own home, you can add even more elements of
For more information on this and
related issues, you can get in touch with
Tucson Commission on Disability Issues at
791-4213 or P.O. Box 27210, Tucson 85726.
You Can Do
We invite you to become a part of this
community sharing too. If you would like more information on Universal Design
or would like to help or contribute to this work in some way, please get
in touch with us