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Designing a “Good Fit” For All People

Universal design must enable people to be independent in daily tasks when human impairments are present.

A home that is universally designed will be functionally a “good fit” for as many people as possible. This has to include people with various health conditions or impairments of the body or mind at any age. It sounds simple, but it’s a big challenge to design something that’s functional for one individual and then extend that functionality to every other person.

It’s complicated to make sure something is usable by so many different people. That’s why our team of health professionals assesses design for functionality across a spectrum of categories of impairments when evaluating how functional a design is.

Below you’ll see an infographic we created to visualize 24 different categories of health-related human impairments that we consider when designing for “all people.” Many of these impairments are regularly overlooked by architects and/or builders when designing homes. This helps illustrate the complexity of universal design and the value of collaboration; we believe that collaboration with health professionals is necessary to ensure people of all ages and abilities can function well within the same environment. 

Infographic:

Impairments explained:

  1. Difficulty interpreting/processing information.
    • Impaired ability to receive, interpret, remember, or act on information.
  2. Susceptibility to fainting, dizziness, seizures.
    • Spontaneous or caused by environmental factors such as sudden sounds or flashing lights, resulting in loss of consciousness, balance, or involuntary muscle control.
  3. Limitation of speech.
    • The capability of only slow or indistinct speech, or non-verbal communication.
  4. Difficulty processing sensory input.
    • When considering the seven senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch, vestibular, and proprioception – this characteristic may occur when someone struggles with attention. We’ll define attention as “the brain’s ability to establish and maintain focus on a signal in the presence of noise” and being able to maintain focus when there is something in the environment (a form of sensory input) that blocks the ability to maintain attention. For example, the HVAC may be too noisy for someone to listen (hearing) to the professor or the clear windows in the study room provides too much of a visual distraction (sight) for someone to focus on their work.
  5. Limitation of sight.
    • Difficulty reading newsprint-size copy with or without corrective lenses all the way to being legally blind.
  6. Complete loss of sight.
    • Inability to receive visual signals from the brain.
  7. Limitation of hearing.
    • Difficulty in understanding normal speech, but not total deafness.
  8. Complete loss of hearing.
    • Inability to receive auditory signals from the brain.
  9. Difficulty moving the head.
    • Difficulty looking up, down, or to the side.
  10. Limitation of stamina.
    • Fatigue, shortness of breath and/or abnormal elevation of blood pressure due to mild exercise.
  11. Difficulty sitting.
    • Excessive pain, limited strength, range of motion (ROM), and/or control in turning, bending or balance while seated.
  12. Limitation of sensation.
    • Impaired ability to detect heat, pain, and/or pressure in any area of the body.
  13. Incoordination 
    • Limited control in placing or directing extremities, including spasticity.                     
  14. Difficulty reaching, lifting, and carrying with arms.
    • Impaired mobility, ROM, and/or strength of one’s upper extremities.
  15. Difficulty manipulating items with hands.
    • Impaired hand or finger mobility, ROM, and/or strength.
  16. Loss of upper extremity (UE) skills.
    • Complete paralysis, severe incoordination, or bilateral absence of UE.
  17. Limitation of balance.
    • Difficulty in maintaining balance while standing or moving.
  18. Difficulty in bending, kneeling, etc. using legs.
    • Difficulty in using lower extremities as in slowness of gait, difficulty kneeling, sitting down, rising, standing, walking, and/or climbing stairs or ladders.
  19. Loss of lower extremity (LE) skills.
    • Complete paralysis, severe incoordination, or bilateral absence of LE.
  20. Reliance on walking aids or mobility devices.
    • Need for equipment due to LE impairment, increased safety, and ease of getting from place to place.
  21. Extremes in height and weight.
    • Flexibility in design for a variety of users including extremes in height and weight.
  22. Caregiver assistance.
    • Awareness of the design to easily accommodate the need for caregiver assistance for activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).
  23. Chemical sensitivity.
    • Consideration in building material and types of finishes to be aware of potential sensitivities that can cause reactions ranging from a general inability to focus, respiratory issues, and more.
  24. Mental Health
    • Consideration of how the environment impacts one’s mental health (psychological and emotional well being) and other related conditions.

It’s important to keep these health-related impairments at the forefront of our minds when designing homes to be a “good fit” for all people. It’s pivotal that health professionals who understand these conditions, architects, and builders work together to achieve universally designed homes that enable maximum independence.

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