Universal Design for accessibility and safety…..

August 31, 2010 at 6:37 am 1 comment

This year, National Falls Prevention Awareness Day is on September 23.  According to the Center for Disease Control, most falls happen at home—every year about 33 million Americans are injured seriously enough to require medical attention. In fact, the most common cause of nonfatal injury in every age group is falling down.1 Furthermore, “Among people 65 years and older, falls are the leading cause of injury deaths and the most common cause of nonfatal and hospital admissions for trauma. Each year in the United States, nearly one third of older adults experience a fall.”1 One facet of a home accessibility evaluation is to assess the home to identify fall risks, with the goal to prevent injury and avoid accidents. The integration of environmental modifications can help decrease the risk of falls, and create a safer home environment.

Incorporating Universal Design principles into the design of a home not only allows for the most amount of users to have access, it also provides a layer of safety.  Pulling up throw rugs to allow for a smooth, firm and slip-resistant surface, not only eliminates an obstacle for persons using walkers and wheelchairs, it also removes a possible fall hazard for anyone else.  Removing clutter and rearranging furniture to create as much clear, open space for navigating throughout the home allows for users of mobility devices to have an unobstructed pathway, while decreasing trip hazards that may be in one’s frequently used pathway in the home.  Use of pull-out shelving eliminates the need for far reach and bending, decreasing one’s fall risk while attempting to get that one pot in the far back corner of the cabinet.

Utilizing both natural light as well as light within a room is integral to creating safe pathways in the home.  Exit/entryways, stairwells and bathrooms are of utmost importance.  Having a light switch, preferably a toggle, conveniently located just before one enters/exits the home will allow for an illuminated pathway and decrease chance of falling over unseen obstacles or bumping into furniture. Although important for universal design, it is not just about the height/location and type of light switch that meets the needs of the most amount of users.  It is the addition of extra lighting that also provides a convenience to all of the residents for safely traversing the frequently used pathways in the home.

The integration of grab bars and handrails will also provide a layer of support and safety.  At first, many will just think of the bathroom and the stairwells for need of this type of support.  However, while completing a home evaluation, an Occupational Therapist may determine that supportive bars and other assistive technology may be needed in other areas of the home to assist a homeowner with safely transitioning from sit to stand.  Occupational Therapists are uniquely prepared to contribute to fall prevention efforts because of our attention to diverse influences on occupational performance.  While Universal Design features can create an added layer of safety, each home and homeowners needs are very unique and need to be evaluated individually for falls prevention to determine appropriate recommendations.

On September 23, 2010 the Greater Philadelphia Aging in Place Chapter, local chapter of the National Aging in Place Council, will take part in an event with the Delaware Aging Network to educate consumers about falls prevention.  How will you spread the word?

1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov


Entry filed under: Accessibility, Aging-In-Place design, Home Safety, Universal Design. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. ronald  |  September 21, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Some call them barrier free plans, universal design plans, lifestyle homes, wheelchair plans, aging in place home plans, or accessible home plans. Whatever you call it, they all fall under the same specifications set forth by the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University. For questions or comments, contact us at


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