Design Elements in Adaptable Living

In the first article in this series on housing for per sons with disabilities, I outlined design elements that would make a residence visitable. This article will outline Adaptable and Accessible design elements for residences. These elements are required in multi-dwelling developments that are funded with MFHA dollars. Residences that incorporate the design elements of an adaptable or an accessible facility will be available for use with very few or no design changes needed in the future to accommodate the occupants. This residence will be more fully enjoyed well into the future by seniors as well as persons with disabilities or families of any size and make-up.

An Adaptable residence has the following design elements:

• An accessible building entrance on an accessible route;
• Accessible and usable public and common use areas;
• Doors that have thirty-two inches of clearance;
• An accessible route into and throughout the dwelling;
• Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls in accessible locations;
• Reinforced walls for grab bars to be installed; and,
• Usable kitchens and bathrooms.

An Accessible design goes a few steps further and includes the following—grab bars installed in the bathroom. If there are 4 or more units to a site, one of the units’ bathrooms has a roll in shower with a fold up bench and adjustable showerhead, meets workspace requirements in the kitchen, and has knee clearance requirements at sinks.

The terms used above may seem like a foreign language at first glance, so I will add some clarification. An accessible building entrance on an accessible route means: (1) the entrance has a thirty-two inch clearance door; (2) the threshold is less than ¼” high and the ground is firm and stable; and, (3) the width of the route is at least forty-eight inches wide with a slope of no more than one to twenty.

An accessible route on the interior of a building should be thirty-six inches wide with a slope if sloped no more than one to twelve, a hard surface or tightly woven carpeted floor. The accessible and usable common use areas refer to public bathrooms, party rooms, exercise areas, mailroom, and public living/meeting area.

The mounting of light switches and other environmental controls should be at a height no more than forty-eight inches from the floor. Electrical outlets should be mounted at least eighteen inches from the floor. These are minimums and can be changed depending on the needs of the occupants.

A usable kitchen includes lower countertops and sinks, usually installed at a height of thirty-two inches, with removable/hide away doors. Most of the kitchen’s cabinets are mounted at lower heights with the highest usable shelf at forty-eight inches from the floor. When sinks are mounted there should be enough clearance for a wheelchair user to be able to roll up to and easily fit underneath from the side or the front.

Closets have lower shelves and racks or adjustable shelves and racks. The peephole in the front door is no higher than forty-eight inches from the floor. The doors should have handles instead of knobs.

Using these simple design elements does not increase the cost anymore than when initially designed and built into residences. These design elements afford all occupants and visitors more comfort and usability for longer periods of their lives.