Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dear Santa: Can I have Universal Design please?

Ever heard of Universal Design? (If not, click above to read about it). Basically, however, Universal Design promotes creating objects, housing, etc for use by all people. This includes barrier free housing, showers and other items.

Every holiday, I receive invitations to go to parties at friends and families' homes. The bottom line is that I can't get into these events because no one's home is accessible. It isn't a matter of just getting in the front door, although that can be daunting in itself - I'm getting flashbacks here of using pieces of plywood to roll up eight concrete steps - but once inside, the hallways may not be passable and of course, the bathroom may not be accessible.

My friends with disabilities have accessible housing by necessity so I can always be with them, but they live many miles away. It is discouraging as a person who works toward inclusion to discover that the friends I have who are not disabled might as well be living in a castle with a moat with alligators in it!

The last time I attempted to get into my sister's townhouse, the scene looked something like this: Picture a parking lot full of tightly parked cars and potholes. You roll through those only to arrive at a curbcut that is in complete disrepair which leads to a sidewalk that is also in pieces of chopped up concrete.

The fun has just begun. You look up and shudder. There's a cement staircase of 8 to 10 large steps which lead to a concrete "porch". Then you have another high step into the townhouse.

There is no handicapped parking near their townhouse. In fact, I have to park the equivalent of two or three blocks away when I visit. Which I can't. Because I can't get inside.

So as I sit here with my cat during the holiday season, pondering the invitations that I have to turn down, I ask that we revisit this question of Universal design, one that I have been told is "frivolous", "too expensive" and makes me sound as if I have a sense of entitlement.

I beg to differ. There is no inclusion without , for starters, physical access.


Katja said...

Frequently, we've got to start with baby steps, and Visitability (rather than UD) is the baby step here.

Other Visitability resources:
The Visitability Initiative Project
The Center for an Accessible Society
Visitability: A New Direction for Changing Demographics

Ruth said...

Thanks for the great information , Katja. I'm going to move it up to a post.

Rosemary said...

We're facing the prospect of some major remodeling to try to have a bathroom that will suit my future needs. It would have been much simpler if our house had been built with accessibility in mind to begin with.

This sounds like a great idea, and with the push of laws requiring it in order to get Federal funding, it should become a more common place and accepted practice.

Ruth said...

Good luck with those renovations, db. After deciding not to do major bathroom renovations, I came up with a very inexpensive bathroom do-over that is quite wonderful and safe. Please let me know if I can be of any help in finding resources.

Rosemary said...

Our problem is that both of our bathrooms are the bare minimum size. There's room for a bath seat that hangs over the outside of the tub, and that's about it. If you put a raised toilet chair with arms over the toilet, you have to take the bath seat out. I said it was small.

We've used one of the bathrooms already with my FIL, who had Alzheimer's, so we've had a chance to see just how limited our space really is.

Ruth said...

I used a commode to flatten the area over my toilet which then joins with a bath seat over the tub, leaving me with a flat surface (which is good for my disability - don't know if it would work for you OR if there is even room to do that). I found everything on ebay and actually paid less than half AND had more choices than conventional stores (go figure!) The limited space is really a tough issue - maybe someone else will have ideas.

Rosemary said...

We have a walk in closet next to our master bedroom bathroom, so if we can move the clothes to somewhere else in the room and expand the bathroom to take up all the space, we can have a really nice area.

That's probably what we'll have to do, but obviously it won't be cheap. That's why I'm agreeing that people ought to think of things like this when they build, even though they don't need it at the time.

Anonymous said...

We had a walk in closet next to our master bedroom bathroom. Incorporating it into the bathroom we have a great space now. In fact, the contractor told me this week that he entered it into a Universal Design contest here in California and won first place!

One of the unique features is that we built in all the "grab" and safety features I need without using a single (ugly) grab bar. i wanted access and style.

I read a good quote from Valerie Fletcher of Adaptive Designs who is at the International Universal Design Conference in Kyoto this week:

“I think fixed standards and regulations make design more predictable, if not outright boring. It becomes, ‘Just tell me what I have to do.'"

Yes, it was expensive. Katja's advice on Visitability is good. In our case

darrenh said...

When I first heard about universal design the thing that struck me was that many aspects are really cost neutral, they just need to be thought of. That's the trick, getting it just to be thought of in the first place, especially for new construction.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Scott and Darren, for stopping by. I've put links to both of your blogs - Rolling Rains Report and Get Around Guide - in my disability links section for those readers interested in excellent information on travel (Rolling Rains also includes universal access information, disability news and other topics.)

Anonymous said...

I've been putting off the discussion I need to have with our Adult Formation person (I forget her official title, but you get the drift.)

Our parish is in the Renew21 program which features meetings in people's homes. I went to this woman and asked her if I could PLEASE be assigned to a group meeting IN THE CHURCH. I told her I needed that in order to be able to fully participate.

Well, I got assigned to a group that met ONCE in the church and then announced they would in future be meeting at a group leader's home.

When I said that wouldn't work for me, they said they'd be happy to pick me up and ramp the step into the leader's house.

I've been just too tired and discouraged to try to explain why that is NOT a good arrangement. Let me count the ways.
1. My participation will now be dependent on someone else's schedule and availability.
2. I'll have to bring my non-motorized chair, so less mobility, poorer circulation, etc.
3. The bathroom? Not likely! So I'll have to hope for the best or wear incontinence gear (not that that's always enough).
which means
4. No eating or drinking.

So if they can't switch me to another group, that meets at the church, I think I'm dropping out. Which of course, is going to be seen as being "proud" and not being willing to accept help.


I've got to come back here sometimes and post about cheery happy things.

Ruth said...

Actually I'm very glad you posted so honestly. I think you write about a very good example of how ongoing communication is necessary in order to provide /receive inclusion. I'd encourage you to explain to her that the group you joined which was going to meet in the church changed venues - and now you need to go to another group at the church. She may not be aware of the change -ack.

Karen Marie said...

My home was built in 1870-something, and of course no one was thinking about accessability back then. I'm fortunate to still walk some, and I've got first floor bedroom and bath that has been all "seniored up" as my contractor called it when it was rehabbed, with higher toilet and grabbars and handheld shower head, etc.

However, I don't walk far enough or painless enough to do it in the public, _and_ I cannot get my wheelchair or rollator in or out of the house by myself. [I count my blessings that I can still climb the porch steps!] So I'm very dependent on the good will of my tenant or my next-door neighbor to leave the house, to lift the chair down, then back up again.

Reading this is giving me the gumption to apply to get a ramp again. I've been refused three times before, but the last time I tried was three years back. Being able to go and come when I please, without having to wait for the tenant, will be a great improvement. Wish me luck!

Ruth said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you Karen Marie! It's definitely worth fighting for. Feel free to email me if you want suggestions or support.

Rosemary said...

Karen Marie, a ramp for you should be seen as a safety issue. In case of a fire, you would not be able to get out of the house on your own. That should be enough reason to qualify for a ramp.

When we brought my mother home from the hospital after she had broken her hip the Home Health agency insisted that we have a ramp installed for just that reason.

Karen Marie said...


The snags on the ramp previously have been two:

1) I still walk some, I can walk up and down the porch steps. Therefore it's difficult to convince the people with the money that it's really necessary, since they can't visualize me being stuck in my disaster-struck house.

2) The first time I applied, I was still working and was declared too wealthy to qualify. (Though I didn't have money or credit to hire in the open market.) I was still too wealthy the second time, and the third time there was fed budget problems and they didn't get the grant money. (Here in WI, ramps get paid for by grants for aiding senoirs and for giving teenagers summer jobs.....) Now that I'm quite broke, the Democrats are taking power, and I'm starting the hoop-jumping for next summer's construction season during the first snowstorm, maybe I'll make it this time.