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Have you heard of Universal Design?

Ask the Contractor: Darren R. Williams


Darren R. Williams is owner of All Generations, a general contracting business based in Clackamas and serving the tri-county area. Williams is a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS) and welcomes questions from homeowners about making their dwellings more accessible as they age. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 1-888-656-9960. Visit the company’s website at www.allgenerations.us.

This month I would like to share some information of a true professional in the aging industry, Esther Greenhouse (see below). Esther is a well-known professional working as an advocate to make our lives simpler by creating ideas that can fit our personal situations while maintaining proper aesthetics.

As we baby boomers live longer, we will continue to find unique ideas and new products to make our daily lives better. Periodically I will share articles from other professionals in the industry. I hope you find value in this article and the many others we will provide. Thank you.

Good design works for everyone

By Esther Greenhouse, M.S., CAPS

There is an approach to design called Universal Design. Universal Design is design for as many ages and abilities as possible. Universally Designed products and homes are ones which meet people’s needs across the lifespan and enable them to function at their highest level.

You already know Universal Design — in the lever door handles that have replaced round doorknobs as the standard. Why? Because the simple lever does not require grasping or twisting, so anyone can use it with ease: For a person with arthritis, a strong hand, a small hand, it makes opening the door while carrying groceries easier. Everyone benefits every day. That’s Universal Design.

Universal Design and bathing

Let’s take a look at how Universal Design can benefit you on a larger scale. Think about the design of one of the most basic features of our homes: the bathtub. Now think about everyone in your family. How does the bathtub work for them today? How did it work for them in the past? How will it work for them in the future?

Most of us have enjoyed a good soak in the tub. As kids, we enjoyed bubbles and bath toys. But what about our parents and grandparents who bathed us? Often the result was sore knees and sore backs.

The ADL Spa, from the Idaho-based company Best Bath Systems, eliminates this issue by raising the entire bathtub up to seat height. What is amazing about this design is that it not only helps with bathing small children, it makes it easier and safer for everyone to get in and out of the bathtub. As we age, our center of gravity shifts, and getting in and out of the bathtub is more difficult. Standard bathtubs are not designed to address this, but the ADL Spa is. By raising the entire bathtub up, so that the floor of the bathtub is at seat height, we eliminate this issue. Just like the lever door handle, the ADL Spa benefits every one, every day.

Why this matters to you

Did you know that the design of your home affects the functioning, well-being and level of independence of every member of your family every day? If your home is not designed to meet your family’s needs, you will not be able to live to your highest capabilities: Daily tasks are harder than necessary to complete, and in some cases may be unsafe.

Over time the gap between your needs and your home will act as a stressor which can bring about a decline in your abilities. For some, this means a repetitive-use injury, or a fall or other injury which may temporarily or permanently change what they can do. For others, it means needing assistance from a family member or paid caregiver. And for some, it means moving out of their home and relocating to an assisted living or skilled nursing facility.

What is important to understand is that the decline caused by this gap is preventable through good, informed design which meets your needs and abilities. There are knowledgeable builders, remodelers, designers and equipment specialists who can work with you to make sure your home is beautiful, safe, and enabling.

Resources to assist you and your family can be found at www.esthergreenhouse.com.

Esther Greenhouse is an advocate for environments that enable people to function at their highest level. She is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and CAPS instructor. Greenhouse has contributed to the award-winning PBS series “Design for a Lifetime.” She has taught CAPS courses and given seminars for Best Bath Systems. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .