Beyond Universal Design

Contributor - Steve Weaver, CEO, BSBA, CLIPP, UDCP, CEAC, CAPS, Living In Place Institute Ambassador

Whether you are an architect, designer, remodeler, renovator, home builder, occupational or physical therapist, many of us embraced, but are still confused, about universal design, design for accessibility, inclusive design, barrier-free, lifespan design, human-centered design, aging in place, designing for aging, visitable, etc. Now professionals are learning from the past and moving forward to embrace, simply, Living In Place. More than just a new term, Living In Place is a positive new approach of improving all homes for all ages and all needs. Same end goal but built upon concepts and lessons from the past.

The History of Universal Design

In 1997, a North Carolina State University project created the seven principles of universal design to guide the design of environments, products, and communications.  For many of us it was a call to action, a rallying cry, a focal point of attention to human needs. According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, the Principles "may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments." 


What are Principles?
Principles are, ”a proposition or value that is a guide for behavior or evaluation,”1 or, a “basic belief or rule influencing something, basic moral rule or belief.”2 Therefore, we can use the seven principles of universal design as guiding moral beliefs. But when working with clients in their home, we need tangible products and specific design solutions. Their needs and desires are expressed as wanting a new kitchen or bathroom, more bedrooms, or even just a spruce-up. They ask for tangible home solutions, not interpretations of principles or expressions of moral beliefs.
If you are one, like many of us, who tried to inform and educate our clients, did you ever hear, “We do not want one-size-fits-all, or “We do not want our home to look like a hospital, or “We do not need that”? Yes, some clients are familiar with the principles of universal design but translating principles into specific design has apparently not worked. From 2007 to 2016, fall death rates for older adults increased 30%3.

The Reality of Housing – Today

Our homes are just not as safe as they should be, and the current trend is worsening. We, as an industry, are responsible for improving safety in every home. All professionals, at all levels, must take a positive stance and make a difference on every project, no matter how small or large. Study the sobering statistic above to understand some of the key features as identified in a 2018 Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) report. And this information worsened from their 2016 report. These are just some of the home features we know we can fix. Fortunately for all, the housing industry now has access to advanced education to understand and provide proper design and appropriate products that can and will turn around this sobering trend into a positive direction.

Housing Trends for Tomorrow
We know historically that emphasis and changes in policies and design for public access began in the 1950s. We patiently watched as the effects slowly trickled into residential spaces. The exciting and good news is that we are at the forefront of accelerating those changes into private homes and fulfilling the visions of those thought leaders of seventy years ago.
When we examine a recent study of professionals in the industry, we see shining hope. We are collectively moving housing into the new generation of design that promises a bright future for all needs and ages. The National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) offers us evidence of this movement. In fact, the NKBA has “devoted a significant effort to this topic of making spaces safe, comfortable, and usable for all individuals, regardless of their physical challenges or ability. “Living In Place” often conjures ideas of making a space accessible to seniors or people who use wheelchairs or walkers. And the occasional person who breaks a leg. That's a big part of it, but a parent carrying a sleeping child into the house needs to be able to walk into and through the space without a tripping hazard. Or when someone is carrying several bags of groceries, it's much easier to use levers instead of doorknobs. Design that works for everyone - today, tomorrow and for multiple generations living in the same dwelling - is what Living In Place is all about.”4

Other key findings in the same NKBA study tell us that, “among specifiers, 67% focused on the desire to remain in the family home as the top factor influencing Living In Place design. This was followed by 65% who said that ensuring that the bathroom is safe and comfortable space for all generations, and 59% saying kitchens that are safe and easy for all ages and skill levels to use. Not surprisingly, more than 53% of all respondents said Baby Boomers and Gen Xers put “heal the body and promote wellness” at the top of their priority lists, and Baby Boomers lead all generations with 67% saying making the space more comfortable for all ages is driving design.” 4

How Does Living In Place Build On Universal Design?
We all acknowledge, accept, and embrace the need for positive change. Universal design principles are part of the industry’s natural growing process. Our individual and collective attention has been drawn to help our clients live better and longer in their homes. The Living In Place Institute brings education to professionals whose business is homes. Just as every other business model, we need clear and positive direction. We need specific ideas and products that we know will help our clients now and into the future.
The business focus now shifts to the built-environment and how we can sell designs and products that we know helps our clients. We never know who will walk (or roll) through the doorway. The Living In Place Institute provides education centered around a practical, positive focused business courses. They teach us why we must continue to move forward, and the specifics of how to improve home designs so all individuals and their families can continue to comfortably Live In Place.
Next Step – To Boldly Go
Reach for the stars. Become one of the stars. Join the growing team of professionals who now, with every project, go beyond basic principles and provide down-to-earth solutions to improve every home for persons of all needs and ages. Zoom forward and embrace the new normal, Living In Place. Read these testimonials from graduates. Contact one of the official Ambassadors with your questions, or contact us directly.
If you are ready now to join the Living In Place network of professionals, click HERE to register today. Through 2020 all classes are Interactive-Virtual, scheduled over a three-day period, and reduced from $1,299 to $699. At the end of the class you instantly become an internationally (universally?) recognized star. You learn practical solutions and business insights to make every home Safe – Healthy - Comfortable, for everyone. No other certification, class, or interstellar training will help you more than becoming a Certified Living in Place Professional.


2Macmillan Dictionary
3 US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4 scroll down to / the official publication of NKBA ( and KBIS (KBIS com)

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