Has Universal Design (UD) had an impact on home safety? Has UD prevented falls or other accidents around the home?

Universal Design

I have searched the internet for studies on the success of UD regarding home safety.  Such studies may be available, but I have not discovered them yet.

Simply stated, UD principles were created in 1997.  From Wikipedia, “Universal design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.

The term “universal design” was coined by the architect Ronald Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.[1] However, it was the work of Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963), who really pioneered the concept of free access for people with disabilities. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb – now a standard feature of the built environment.”

The adjective “assessible” from the quote above is incredibly significant as it implies that most everyone can use or live in a space that is assessible.  From a “home safety” viewpoint, it is the ability for most persons to access (easlity pass through all door(s) and move around a home, prepare meals, and take care of all personal hygene needs without assistance.  The “assessable” or “safe home” has easy access features i.e., countertops, kneewells, shelving/storage, appliances, electrical outlets, light switches, assessable cabinet and door hardware, toilets, shower entrances, mirror hight, unobstructed paths, contrasting color schemes, switched and motion sensing lighting, safety and grab bars, all located where persons can easily access them. 

One more point before considering UD’s impact on home safety.  UD was born out of the reality that the “handicaped” or “disabled” persons world must be addressed.  Early adaptions included commercial and government building, hospitals, apartment building and high-rise structures, all driven by building code changes. 

An early adoptor was the home design industry.  Thousands of homes were designed and built with some or all the UD features, if the features did not look to “institutionalized”.

However, “thousands” of homes are not significant in the USA home market when you consider that the total number of USA homes is approaching 140,000,000.

While not a statistically supported number, (no known study) it is reasonable to state that the number of UD homes is not significant currently.  There is an impact.  It is not quantifiable with the data that I have availble.

We must also consider that a segment of USA homes already has safety features.  There are hundreds of thousands or potentially millions of homes that have installed safety bars (hallways/stairs) and grab bars (bathroom/wet rooms).  While most if not every one of these safety and grab bars has likely prevented or minimized a fall, statistical data was not discovered. 

Another factor, as we age, the ability to maintain our grip deminishes (muscel tone/strenght).  If a wall or countertop is all we have prevent a fall, getting a “grip” is exceedingly difficult. 

Properly engineered and installed grab bars are much better at preventing or minimizing a fall.  “Engineered” means that the persons using grab bars were “fitted” for the bar.  Grab bars are generally available in 1.25” and 1.5” diameters and are available with smooth or “peened” (rougher) surfaces.  The persons using the safety or grab bar(s) should be able to wrap their fingers around the bar.  A smaller hand likely needs a the 1.25” diameter grab bar.  The bars must be visible (contrast to supporting walls), proper height for application and structuraly strong. 

Conclusion:  Every componet of Uneversal Design is designed for home safety, comfort, assessability and usability.  It is a great concept.  My view is that UD needs to be widely accepted and deployed.  UD is a great solution to most preventable home accidents.

Some componets, mostly grab and safety bars are widely installed, and a significant number of no step showers are installed in today’s homes.  There is an impact on fall prevention.  How many falls are prevented?  I have not found any studies to support a value. 

Medical science is contributing to our longevity however falls are a leading cause of hospitalization and death in many segments of our population, especially seniors.  Wide acceptance of UD is a reasonable solution for preventable accidents around the home.  Successfully aging in place needs as many UD components implemented into your home as possible. 

Web sites like this one, www.imsafeathome.com and my other site, www.ageinplacehomesafetyconsultant.com aka www.aiphsc.com are dedicated to the education of anyone interested in home safety.  Spreading the word about UD as well as products and services that support home safety are a work in progress at my websites.

Keep reading my future posts as I review UD and aging in place solutions.

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