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Posted at 05:30 AM ET, 03/12/2013

House Watch | Universal design is for everyone, not just the physically handicapped

Most home owners resist universal design features like shower grab bars and wider doorways as as being unnecessary. We’ll never get old or be seriously injured, they say.

But here’s the thing. Universal design features that make a house more accessible to a physically handicapped person will help all homeowners, from day one.

 A case in point: Seattle architect and accessibility expert Emory Baldwin’s experience with a “zero step” ramped entry in his own house.

Baldwin imagined that the ramp would be a hit with his wife’s grandmother, and it was. She was unsteady on her feet and used a walker. With the ramp she could enter their house unassisted, a seemingly small gesture that she loved.

 What Baldwin didn’t envision was how much the ramp would help his own parenting. In his old house, he said, he would take his two young daughters for an outing in a “baby jogger.”

Readying them and getting the jogger down the front steps was a hassle, but the return was worse. The kids would be asleep, and this could give him an hour or so to do a few chores around the house. But when he lifted each child from the jogger to bring her inside or lifted the jogger with both kids still strapped in and carried it inside, they would wake up.

With the ramp in his new house, he could wheel the jogger inside, leaving the kids to nap peacefully in the front hall, while he cleaned up the kitchen and did laundry.

 When Baldwin’s daughters grew older and started riding tricycles, they didn’t need help getting outside, they could take off down the ramp from the front stoop. Now that his older daughter bikes or takes a scooter to school, she just wheels it outside and she’s on her way. The ramp makes it easier and safer, he says, with “no worries about her carrying a bike up and down stairs.”

 Baldwin said the ramp has also facilitated preparations for family vacations because he can wheel suitcases right out to the car.

 Baldwin’s ramp, a straight shot from the public sidewalk to his front porch, is about 20 feet long. At the porch end it’s about 8 inches above the surrounding grade level; with such a minimal rise, no handrails were required.

 Realizing that many universal design features, including zero-step ramps, will find immediate use, some home builders have characterized them as “cross over” features.

Katherine Salant has an architecture degree from Harvard. A native Washingtonian, she grew up in Fairfax County and now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. Comments? Contact Katherine Salant at salanthousewatch@gmail.com or www.katherinesalant.com .

By  |  05:30 AM ET, 03/12/2013

 
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