Universal Design Guidelines

At the start of the 20th century, older adults and people with disabilities were true minorities. The average human lifespan was only 47 years. Today, due to better medicine and healthier lifestyles, the average lifespan has increased to 76 years.

The concept of Accessibility, which had then begun to address the needs of people with disabilities at that time, evolved in what is now Universal Design (UD). This concept takes into account the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes. By human diversity, we can create an environment that will be better for everyone to use.

Far from being a purely aspirational concept requiring ‘rocket science, it’s one currently being tackled head-on at the CEUD. Dr. Ger Craddock, Chief Officer at the Centre tells about the future publication of draft ‘Universal Design Guidelines for homes in Ireland’ strategy.

Consultation workshops

He explains ‘This process has come about following Public Consultation workshops which took place over the past two years. The Universal Design Guidelines are intended to inform national policy and new home design standards which can accommodate people of different ages, size, abilities or disabilities. These are readily adaptable which will take into account the needs of the individual over their life-cycle.’

‘Key stakeholders who took part in the process include Disability, Age and Statutory  representatives; the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI); the Construction Industry Federation (CIF); the department of the Environment, Community & Local Government, and a number of voluntary housing groups’ he says.

Public consultation process

Also amongst the stakeholders was Managing Director of Inspex Solutions, Anne Millar who says ‘Improving the quality of the built environment, both commercial and domestic, and the impact of the built environment on human beings lies at the core of our mission.  This includes the built and new-build structure; be it the commercial or residential context.’

Anne says ‘While the publication of the Guidelines is both timely and essential, the question of how the buildings will meet, with and compare to the Guidelines is key. This is where the rating system within Inspex Solutions is also so timely and relevant.’

In relation to the public consultation process, Dr. Craddock says, ‘The comments stage has closed for review now and we can expect the draft results to go for publication in the next couple of months once final edits have been completed.  We are also working on Universal Design of Dementia friendly dwellings which have gone through the same rigorous consultation process and these will be available also come this summer.’

He says ‘In the past we’ve been focusing on care for people with dementia in nursing homes versus how we can support them to live longer in their own homes., With design modifications to existing homes as well as incorporated into newly built houses will dramatically improve the quality and standard of living for these individuals.’

Ger says ‘Neighbours and community play a great part in the lives of this section of society, and in keeping them out of care homes and at home for longer. Another important factor to consider is the carer; partner or parent for example. It’s only when the carer, such as the partner of the person goes into hospital or a nursing home themselves, that serious difficulties arise. While addressing the needs of the person with dementia, it’s crucial that the Carer is also cared for.’

Universal Design

Where there’s user-friendly design incorporated in the structure of a house, everyone; especially the person with dementia is safer and remains healthier for longer. According to Ger, ‘Following the national international best practice review, research and guidance in home design, a cost assessment of a universal design built home versus the standard built  is also being produced which should convince builders to think Universal Design in all their building projects.

Universal Design is good for all people as it focuses on the diversity of our society such as people of small stature to people who are very tall. The catch phrase of our work is “understand the extremes to inform the mainstream

He points out that ‘Some of the basic, but key-areas in a house when considering the needs of the elderly, and those with disabilities and dementia includes the exits; kitchen; bathroom. A big problem can be the stairwell in a house. Many people go off and pay for expensive modifications without any consultation with the person these are being carried out for. They come ‘home’ afterwards to what is foreign or strange to them.’

The design expert says ‘It’s critical to involve the person with dementia in the design process for example. Giving them the time to be clear on what they want, and what they don’t want changed, must be a priority. I’m very excited about this initiative. It’s all about arriving at an understanding what it can bring to the quality of life for people in their own homes. We’ve been missing that key element ‘til now.’ Craddock says.

On a practical level, Inspex Managing Director, Anne Millar gives the example of where the CEUD Guidelines might recommend that a ramp needs to be a particular gradient, or a wall surface needs to have a particular texture, and queries how this required gradient or wall surface texture will ultimately be rated?

She says ‘Ask the question; does the ramp meet the specification, and does the wall surface meet the specification. If it does comply; it’s crucial to establish to what level on a 0-5 scale? With its unique rating functionality, Inspex offers the solution to these issues. Our advanced rating solution ensures the data collected is effectively used for its ultimate purpose which is to meet the required UD standard.’