Today was insightful, motivating, and our heads are full of knowledge! It’s refreshing to be in community with SO many people who are engaged in making our homes and communities beautiful and easy to use. Sarah and I decided to split up on most sessions to learn as much as we could. There’s too much to write, but here are our top 5 things we wanted to highlight about today’s sessions… and then we’re going to bed.
1. Amy Levner from AARP (@amylevneraarp) validated our mission about universal design being equally as important in communities as well as homes. The challenge is that our cities are designed for cars, not people (does this sound familiar for anyone who has read our ebook?). We need walkable and livable cities. Esther Greenhouse (@esthergreenhous) provided this statistic in another session: we live in an auto-dependent society, but 1/3 of the population doesn’t drive, and private transportation isn’t an economically sustainable solution.
2. Universal design isn’t seen as a “want” but a “need” by the majority of the population (for those who have heard of it), and is often associated with disability, regardless of its intent of increasing access & usability – or ease & convenience – for everyone. The Better Living Design Institute is aiming to create more of a “want” by driving consumer demand for universal design in homes without actually calling it universal design, favoring a new “better living design” (BLD) designation. Louis Tenenbaum (@louis_tenenbaum) highlighted that the meaning and experience behind the design of things is more important than the specific details, in terms of marketing.
3. Esther Greenhouse (@esthergreenhous), an environmental gerontologist, dropped an atom bomb of statistics about falls. Falling is just one of many, many problems that the aging population faces when hazards exist due to environments that aren’t safe for their ever-changing levels of ability. Think about the big-picture impact of this, not just “oh, grandma might break her hip.” Out of the 65+ population, 1/3 will experience a fall. This results in 2.4 million ER visits per year. 662,000 people are then hospitalized, and 20,000 die. 25% of people 65 or older who fall will spend at least one year in a skilled nursing facility (maybe because their homes aren’t friendly for less-than-perfect mobility? hmm…). Medicare costs average $10,000 per person. Direct costs (billable, not non-billable) are around $30 billion. The projected billable direct costs of falls alone, in the year 2020, is $54.9 billion. The point: universal design (or enabling design, using Esther’s lingo) totally makes economic sense.
4. Elizabeth Phillips is an architect and presented on design for visual impairments. Turns out the current Braille literacy rate is about 10% for the blind population. The implication for this is that it’s not enough to “just follow the ADA” and assume accessibility is legit. Lots of other considerations that fall under the scope of universal design are important, such as (but not limited to) color, contrast, texture, and lighting. Later, Robert Nichols (an architect as well) presented on design for the deaf and hard of hearing. Surprisingly (to me), his emphasis was all about lighting. Think about it. If audible communication is restricted, what’s the next best thing? Visual communication. Good lighting makes a tremendous difference for this segment of the population, which goes way beyond the idea of just making sure fire alarms have a strobe light feature. It’s all about making sure an environment is safe and comfortable, which requires a considerable amount of planning. Oh, and he did conclude by saying that design needs to be a team effort (i.e., multiple practitioners involved), which we obviously agree with.
5. Deb Young (@EmpowerAbility) is an occupational therapist by profession and is very involved in her state legislature in Delaware. She’s been an important part in the recent passing of House Bill #227, which provides incentives to say “yes” to using universal design principles to win a bid, when construction using public financial assistance. A higher score on a 40 point scale outlined in the bill helps increase the likelihood of winning the bid. This doesn’t mean that each home built will have the exact same characteristics as the acceptance of the bid, but based purely on score. Deb explained that there were some elements of universal design that were not included, but it is a positive move in the right direction for increasing access in homes. Hopefully this serves as a model for other states as well.
What’s the point? People get it. Design matters!
(in case you missed it: here are Sarah’s reflections on the universal design tours from Monday)