How Universal Design is influencing Architecture

Could Universal Design Be the Next Mainstream Movement in Architecture, Planning?

Click on book image, Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments, to learn more at Amazon.comNew textbook provides the first comprehensive introduction to a growing field

Release Date: April 20, 2012

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Universal design, which employs design to encourage health and wellness and other quality-of-life improvements, may be poised to become the next mainstream endeavor in architecture and planning, according to two leading experts in the field.  (I hope they’re right. – Wayne)

Edward Steinfeld, director of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center), and Jordana L. Maisel, the center’s director of outreach and policy studies, are authors of a new textbook, “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments.”

“We believe we are close to a watershed moment,” the authors write in the preface to the book, which was released on April 10 and includes chapters on housing, interior design, transportation and more. “Whether they know the term or not, the work of leading architects and design firms reflects the adoption of universal design concepts.” Read More …

Occupational Therapists Help Modify Homes for Life

This article was originally published at 1 Call Bath Solutions and is re-posted with permission.

Click image to visit 1 Call Bath Solutions website at love working with occupational therapists. Why? Because we have the same goal of helping people live longer, fuller and more comfortable lives at home.

Occupational therapists are big picture experts.  Let’s take Mary.  She’s 85, lives at home and is challenged with Parkinson’s.  Sue, her occupational therapist, assesses her physical strengths and weaknesses, how the natural aging process is affecting her (things like eyesight and hearing that affect everyone over time), her medical condition and any psychological issues.  And the psychological part doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with Mary—it could be just the typical fears of losing control over her own life and the lack of privacy that comes from depending on others.

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Caregivers and the “Smart” Homes of Tomorrow

This article features comments I posted on a James Holloway article about Smart Homes of Tomorrow, where automation is based on sensors and learned intelligence that encompasses any device providing automatic control of home functions. Systems most likely to be automated are: lights, thermostats & home appliances; television, video & music systems; security alarms &  monitoring systems; and home health care monitors, alarms & communication devices.

A conceptual smart home with 17 components, including automated pet feeder.

mHealthTalk Comment:

My perspectives aren’t too far from what Mr. Holloway wrote about. They came from introducing IBM to the Smart Home market in 1994, helping it launch IBM Home Director, and retiring in 1999 to start CAZITech, a Digital Home consulting firm.

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Home Improvement Trends

eLocal Home Improvement Badge


Modern Health Talk founder Wayne Caswell is an home improvement expert and contributes to their industry surveys. Their first survey for 2012 is the same as for 2011 – What are the top Home Improvement Trends.  Below is an infographic that summarizes answers from 50 eLocal experts, followed by what I submitted for this year’s survey.


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Aging-in-Place advice for Contractors

Don't just say, "Trust Me." Earn Trust.In this recessionary economy, home construction is slow, but one bright spot is home modifications for aging in place. I was happy to meet a reputable local contractor who is adopting Universal Design principals and embracing the Aging-in-Place market. They’re going to Houston next week for a Certified Aging in Place (CAPS) class, which covers low-tech construction projects but not high-tech solutions like environmental and medical sensors and telehealth services. Our discussion got me thinking about advice for builders and remodeling contractors that I created  several years as Communications Director for HOT. Homeowners of Texas is a non-profit consumer advocacy that helped get an abusive State agency abolished. But until we can produce our own video tutorials for contractors, I’m including several shorts (~5 min) from 5min Media, a leading syndication platform for broadband instructional, knowledge and lifestyle videos.

Housing Options: Retirement and Independent Living Communities

Housing Options: Aging-in-Place

How to Choose a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist

Peter Pan housing – for people who won’t get old

Peter PanNPR host Michele Norris explores housing options for America’s aging population in her interview with Jon Pynoos, a professor of gerontology policy and planning at USC. (Listen to the broadcast or read the transcript HERE.)

Pynoos describes the high costs of nursing homes and assisted living facilities and the insurance options that pay for them, including Medicare & Medicaid. He then promotes aging-in-place at home as a much lower-cost option, but most homes were designed for people who aren’t old. He calls them Peter Pan homes. They have stairs, inaccessible bathrooms, and inadequate lighting, and they lack many of the safety features that would help people avoid falls.

“I won’t grow up.    I don’t want to go to school.
Just to learn to be a parrot,    And recite a silly rule.”

To help you assess your home and make modifications, contact a certified aging in place specialist (CAPS).

Related Articles:

Home Modifications can Change Lives

cropped image of Danise Levine

Danise Levine has helped hundreds of people with disabilities or reduced mobility live more comfortably in their homes by designing home modification that fit their needs.

Home Modifications: UB-Designed Renovations Are Changing Lives, One Home at a Time

For people with disabilities, modifications can mean the difference between comfort and frustration at home

Release Date: September 29, 2011

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even the smallest of home renovations can change the life of someone with a disability. Widening a doorway or adding grab bars around a toilet can mean the difference between independence and dependence — between comfort and discomfort in one’s own home.

That knowledge is what has driven architect Danise Levine to design about 475 home modifications over the past 15 years as a member of the University at Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center).

“You see people in their homes, and they’re restricted by their environment. To try and overcome this, they tend to adapt their behavior to their environment instead of adapting their environment to fit their behavior. It’s very rewarding when you can help change that,” Levine said.

Levine, now the IDeA Center’s assistant director, began working on home modifications in 1996, soon after graduating from UB’s architecture master’s degree program.

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National Demonstration Home for Universal Design, Part 1

Rosemarie Rossetti

Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. (used with permission)

Thirteen years after a freak accident left her paralyzed, Rosemarie found a new mission in life: sharing what she has learned about Universal Design. She founded Universal Design Living Laboratory and is building a national demonstration home that will be opened to the public this fall. I’ll be writing a series of articles about her project and start with this, her story.

About The Demonstration Home Project

My Story

By Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D.

On June 13, 1998 my husband, Mark Leder, and I decided to celebrate our anniversary by going on a bicycle ride. It was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky, perfect biking weather. I was riding down the path ahead of Mark, when he heard a loud crack and yelled, “Look over there something is falling!” I glanced back at him and suddenly a 3 1/2 ton tree came crushing down on me, leaving me injured on the bike path. My life was changed in that instant! I was paralyzed from the waist down with a spinal cord injury.

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Finding a ‘healthy’ home a challenge, but can be done

Photo by Tom Coplen Buena Vista Photography

Modern homes are more airtight, driven largely by a push for increased energy efficiency, but that can trap pollutants inside and make it more likely to breathe toxic air inside the home than outside. The concentration of toxic compounds emitted by common household products and furnishings can cause dizziness, headache, nausea, fatigue and other symptoms. As much as 15% of the population is sensitive to these chemicals, especially those with asthma and other respiratory diseases. That’s why I was attracted to this article by Carrie Alexander, describing the challenges of finding a “healthy” home.

Elaine Robbins searched for more than a year before she found a house in Austin that would fit her needs. Like most home buyers, Robbins needed a house that fit her budget, location and square-footage requirements. But she also needed to find a home that would not make her ill.

Many of the houses for sale — especially those that had been spruced up with new carpet and paint before going on the market — raised health concerns for Robbins, who is especially sensitive to chemicals in many modern building materials, products and furnishings, as well as cigarette smoke and natural gas.

Read Carrie’s article for information on finding green homes built with healthy materials.


Tools & Gadgets for Independent Living

The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology: Tools & Gadgets for Living Independently

Using a “lively narrative style,” Suzanne introduces readers to new and existing technologies, where to find them, and how to pay for them.

“The Illustrated Guide to Assistive Technology and Devices” by Suzanne Robitaille reached #1 on Amazon’s Assistive Technology List, and I’m happy to republish this excerpt with her permission. This book has been universally praised since it cuts through the clutter surrounding assistive devices with a simple conversational style. It’s organized according to disability and easily explains the best type of device for a multiple situations, home, work, on the road, or at school.

The book “combines research and personal insight to help even the most novice user make better, more informed choices about assistive technology.”
– Frances West, IBM Human Ability and Accessibility Center

Chapter 1


Having a disability isn’t easy. Believe me, I know. I have had a hearing disability since I was four years old. Growing up profoundly deaf impacted my education, my lifestyle, and eventually my employment. Indirectly, it affected my parents, my sister, my teachers, my friends, and my bosses.

But being deaf was also a blessing. It helped me build character; it gave me insight into a more realistic world than the one in which my peers lived; and it brought for me a love of books, and of writing, which my wonderful mother–who, like the rest of my family, was hearing– encouraged me to pursue as a career.

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Home Renovations that can Save the Estate

Jack and Jill, a Mother Goose nursery rhyme

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got, and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
With vinegar and brown paper.

Jack and Jill were in their late 60s and had been married for 37 years when Jack suffered a severe stroke and required care beyond the abilities of his partner. He was sent to an assisted-living facility, and the family home was sold to pay for his care.

Jill ended up finding a new place to live, now alone without her lifelong mate, and being separated affected the couple’s morale. Worse is that it affected both their health and their finances. Life savings were depleted before Medicaid kicked in, and the grown children now had two places to visit to support their declining parents.

It didn’t have to be that way with this second scenario.

Just as in the nursery rhyme, Jack goes home and gets better quicker in those familiar and loving surroundings, where Jane hires professionals to help care for him. That decision lets the couple stay together, and the kids have just one place to visit.

Even though renovating a home for wheelchair accessibility can cost $50,000, it can be financially better than the alternative, and the project can be entirely funded with home equity. That way they don’t even have to touch their retirement money. You see, Jack and Jill are like most American seniors, 86% of whom would rather continue living at home for as long as possible, and are willing to seek help to do that.

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In-laws, Outlaws, and Granny Flats

NanaI found a book on home remodeling that may help you or your aging parents. It reminded me of mom’s story and the fact that housing needs change as we move through life stages.

Mom & Dad were both chain smokers, but thankfully I never started. After dad died, mom sold their home in McLean and bought a nice little condo in Fairfax. She even replaced the large-scale furniture with units that better fit the smaller space. ‘Good move. That worked fine for a few years, but without dad she grew more lonely and needed more care. Her emphysema progressed to the point that she was put on oxygen and forced to quit smoking, and she could no longer drive.

As her health deteriorated, one of the best things mom did was to sell the condo and use the money to build an apartment onto my brother’s home. Perry had enough land to expand on, and it gave mom autonomy and a sense of security with family so close by. She still missed dad but was relatively happy there – as happy as she could be given her health problems – until she too finally passed away years later.

I invite you to share your own story as a reply below.

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Managing Stairs: The Stair Lift

Managing Stairs: The Stair Lift

By Susan Luxenberg, President, HomeSmart LLC

There are many different types of stair lifts: straight rail stair lifts, curved rail stair lifts, indoor as well as outdoor stair lifts.  They can be purchased new or used. [If you have experience with a lift, please tell us about it in our comments section below.]

Straight Stair Lift by Curved Stair Lift from Curved Stair Lift from Outdoor Stair Lift by Outdoor Stair Lift by

You do not need to have aging infirmities or be a wheelchair user to be faced with a challenge when negotiating stairs.  Leg or back injuries can also make stair climbing painful if not impossible.  One of the best options for handling the stairways found both inside your home and out is a stair lift.

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Have you Boomer-proofed your Home?

Should you downsize your home?Your kids have grown, and they left you empty nested. You no longer need that big house and may have already considered downsizing. 77% of boomers have, considered it at least. But have you done anything about it? Less than 29% have a strategy for downsizing or modifying their home for aging in place.

Face it; you too are getting older, one day or one year at a time. You need to start planning for retirement, sometime. But like many boomers, you hate planning. Maybe it’s because you still feel young. Is that why you still don’t have a will or don’t manage your investments actively? Are you one of those people who don’t even open their 401k statements?

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Need to Redo your Loo?

Revitalizing Your Home

Available in bookstores and at

Before remodeling, check out AARP’s free webinar, “Transform Your Bathroom Through Good Design and Innovative Products,” and their paperback book, “Guide to Revitalizing Your Home: Beautiful Living for the Second Half of Life.”

The webinar featured dozens of photos showing innovative ideas, many using universal design concepts. I selected a 21 sample photos to include in this article but encourage you to watch the webinar to see them all and hear the commentary.

Remodeling for accessibility can be quite attractive and increase a home’s value. Click on each image below to see the high-res version, and notice the design features, such as wheelchair accessible showers, folding shower seats and handheld shower heads, designer grab bars and mirrors, cabinets with knee space and storage, and smart toilets.

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MEDCottage: a place for mom


MEDCottage introduces new way to care for loved ones

Home health care can avoid higher costs of institutional care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, but making space may be an issue. Fortunately, there are many options. You can give grandma the spare bedroom, convert a garage into living space, remodel the home, or add a small cottage on your property.

That last option is the idea behind MEDCottage, a charming modular home that serves as a “mini-medical facility.” It’s designed like a deluxe trailer for the elderly, but it doesn’t look like a trailer. I like the idea of relying on experts to integrate various systems, where the combined value is greater than the sum benefits of each part.

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Do Hands-free faucets really harbor germs?

Hands-free Faucets Harbor Germs

A motion-activated faucet in a Los Angeles-area home. Such faucets at the Johns Hopkins Hospital were found to breed more Legionella bacteria than traditional manual fixtures. (Christine Cotter/ Los Angeles Times)

According to reporter Eryn Brown of the LA Times, the electronic hands-free faucets save water but can spread germs. So how’s that?

I don’t know, but apparently folks at Johns Hopkins Hospitals in Baltimore discovered that their new faucets were so much more contaminated with bacteria that they ripped them out and went back to the conventional lever-handle type.

Read whole story here.

Household Tips for Aging in Place

Most Americans want to stay in their homes as they age.

Source: AARP & National Association of Home Builders

AARP says the vast majority of Americans over age 50 want to stay in their homes as they age. We’d rather stay in familiar surroundings with treasured memories and nearby friends and neighbors than seek assisted living and other options. Most homes, however, weren’t designed with that objective in mind. Often built by and for younger generations, they can pose hazards to someone with impaired mobility, balance or vision. Fortunately, some relatively inexpensive adaptations can accommodate life changes as we age. This article addresses the simplest of them.

Safety & Mobility

As we get older, or suffer an injury or other disability, our sore joints, weakened muscles, and a lack of balance, dexterity and vision make simple tasks difficult, including reaching, bending, lifting, and moving about more. This can contribute to accidents and affect our personal hygiene, nutrition, and well-being.

So remember what Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” With planning and preparation, you can help prevent falls and injuries rather than react to them.
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Planning to Retire Right Where You Are

By Linda Stern, Reuters, 3/11/2011

Most boomers say they don’t want to retire and move to Florida or Arizona or even Belize. They want to stay where they are, near family and friends and in the home that they already know and love.

That may not work out for the whole generation: Their kids might move away, or the expensive suburban neighborhoods that served them well when they were working might prove too taxing once they start cashing in their 401(k) accounts. Some may change their plans. But anyone giving serious thought to retiring – and ultimately aging – in place, can make that outcome more likely if they start planning in advance.

“Don’t just leave it to chance,” says Peter Bell, a reverse mortgage advocate and also head of the National Aging In Place Council, a coalition of businesses that sell to seniors. “Waiting until you’re in your 80s is a mistake.”

So lay that groundwork now. You could always move later. Here are some pointers.
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