It can be heartbreaking to have to leave your home because of mobility issues at any age or stage of your life. So when you're building, choosing a new home or renovating, keep basic accessibility features in mind. These features will help make it easier for you, your family and guests everyday.
For example, a zero-step entrance makes it easier to get strollers, large or heavy items and things such as groceries and packages into the house. A design with fewer stairs will reduce the risk of falls in the home for young children as well as seniors.
If you're building, try to include an elevator, or rough one in. If you're renovating, try to retrofit your space to include an elevator. Plan to include wide doorways and hallways, which will not only make the space seem bigger and brighter, but will make navigating the home easier for anyone using a walker or wheelchair.
A main-floor bathroom is a must. Include a large walk-in shower instead of a tub. Another popular idea is to include a master suite on the main floor, to be used by in-laws now and you later should stairs become an issue. A broken leg and a long run of stairs isn't a good combination.
Include an attached garage with a door to connect it to the house so you don't have to go outside in inclement weather. It's a handy feature for all ages.
Being able to enjoy your home for the long term is easier if you keep universal design in mind when you're building, buying or renovating. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) offers design principles for universal design on its website.
It includes some features that can be added during renovations, such as lever-type door handles, which are easy to include when hardware is being updated. Lever handles are easy to open with one hand or an elbow, which makes it easy for small children or anyone carrying objects. These features can be added over time, CMHC says.
Being able to visit friends and neighbours is a simple pleasure, but not one that can be enjoyed by everyone. Nor is being able to maneuver in their own home.
"People who inhabit and visit the houses we live in come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from infants to seniors, with various ever-changing abilities and skills," says CMHC. "As we grow up, grow old and welcome new people into our homes, our housing needs change. A house that is designed and constructed to reflect the principles of universal design will be safer and more accommodating to the diverse range of ages and abilities."
CMHC says universal design is only a subtle shift from what is typically done; designing for greater accessibility is not a new way of designing, simply a more focused one. "By providing flexibility in the selection of design features and incorporating adaptability into the house design, the life and usability of a home is extended, which promotes the concept of aging in place."
The universal house includes many elements that contribute to universal accessibility and are of benefit to everyone, CMHC says. For example, level, smooth, slip-resistant and glare-free floor finishes provide enhanced safety and comfort, and 36-inch wide doors make it easier to carry grocery bags and children into the house.
Other ideas from CMHC include windows that have easy-to-operate opening and locking systems; shades or blinds to help control interior light; and adding extra lighting throughout that can be adjusted to everyone's needs.
When renovating the kitchen, choose cabinets that have drawers and pull out shelves to eliminate the need to reach to the back of the cupboards. Handrails on both sides make stairways easier for everyone to negotiate. Bathrooms should include curbless showers that are large enough to accommodate a seat or stool.
"Planning for individuals' changing needs and abilities allows for periodic home customization based on changing requirements and reduces the need for future costly renovations," CMHC says. Planning for future needs is good practice. Principles of universal design encourage flexibility, adaptability, safety and efficiency and makes life easier every day.
In addition to universal housing, there is Visitable housing that makes it easier for people using mobility devices to visit a home; adaptable houses that can change to accommodate a variety of family types; and accessible housing that meets the needs of a person with a disability.