Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Early Home Planning Important in Later Years

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Early Home Planning Important in Later Years

Article excerpt

AKRON, Ohio -- Friends ask Ruth Ackerman why she doesn't move to a smaller home, but she dismisses the idea.

Ackerman says her roomy two-bedroom condominium has everything she needs, including lovely views, a comfortable layout and a steady stream of visitors. It also has a bonus: features that will continue to make the house livable should she ever need a walker or a wheelchair.

Mostly they're unnoticeable elements, such as wide doorways with sliding doors, a bathroom big enough for a wheelchair to turn around in and a ground-level entrance, but they're important to her peace of mind. They made it easier for her late husband, Arthur, to live at home during the last months of his life, and she hopes they'll enable her to stay there for many years.

The kind of planning that went into Ackerman's home could help every house meet its owners' long-term needs, say those concerned with helping people to live independently. They say thinking ahead can mean the difference between a home that accommodates weakened grips or unsteady gaits and one that is filled with hazards, barriers or just plain annoyances.

"There are just a whole lot of things that you can put in a house that'll make it more convenient and easier to use," said Nancy Hitchcock, information specialist at the Center for Universal Design, a national information center located at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "So much of it is common sense, and the solutions are so simple."

Universal design, Hitchcock explains, is different from accessible design in that it focuses on creating spaces that everyone can use more easily, rather than spaces designed specifically to accommodate people with disabilities.

It also emphasizes attractive, unobtrusive features, she said. "You shouldn't walk into a house . . . and say, `Oh, my gosh, this is a handicap house.'"

Hitchcock said demand for universal design is increasing as awareness spreads and people ask for it in their homes. She says interest is driven partly by the increasing number of people who are surviving accidents, thanks to medical advances, but are left with limitations. In addition, many baby boomers are seeking homes that their parents can share with them or that will accommodate their own needs later in life, she said.

That kind of forward-thinking design, however, is missing from most homes being built today, Hitchcock said.

"I cringe when I'm out there driving around looking at these new houses," said Rose Juriga, executive director of Tri-County Independent Living Center Inc. in Akron. Many are two or three levels, with several steps leading to the front door, tiny first-floor bathrooms and step-down access to rooms -- features that would be difficult for a person with limited mobility to negotiate, she said. …

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