Decorilla‘s Lead Design Expert, Devin Schaffer, found a greater sense of purpose in his chosen career while studying interior design in college. A course on accessible design opened his eyes to the world of the 67 million Americans (more than a quarter of the country) living with a disability who may not be able to live and move throughout their homes as easily as he does. Schaffer thought of his grandfather with Alzheimer’s, and he began imagining a safer environment for his loved one that didn’t feel like a jail cell—locks that didn’t look like locks and a bedroom redesign for better access to the bathroom at night. Schaffer also befriended an autistic designer who further opened up the world of accessible design to him as someone who took her experiences to help others create safer, more functional spaces that were still incredibly beautiful.
“When it comes to talking about equity for everyone and when [the Americans With Disabilities Act] started to get defunded, there was a lot of buzz around the words ‘universal’ and ‘accessible design,'” says Schaffer. “It’s all about how things can function without losing their form and that starts with having conversations.”
What Is Accessible Design?
As opposed to universal design, Schaffer believes accessible design is all about creating barrier-free environments. While this is primarily thought of for spaces like kitchens and bathrooms, it’s also often a necessity for things like thresholds, be it an entryway or a bathtub, that may not be as easily crossed by someone who has a disability, among other spaces in the home.
“What we’re hearing the most right now from clients is they need help with aging parents,” says Schaffer. “I feel that we all know with the current healthcare system, older people are being forced to age in place in their homes and can’t afford a senior living center, so they are looking for solutions in their own homes or their children’s homes. This is true, especially in last five years with the growth of the multigenerational family. You want everyone in that one home to feel the same way and have the same comfort level.”
Schaffer says ergonomics are an essential component to keep in mind for accessible design outside of the bathroom. Seat depths and heights, for example, are all things that can prevent guests or family members from feeling comfortable in the home. Rugs that aren’t nonslip can cause accidents and beds that are too high off the ground may be difficult to access. But while there are are so many things that can prevent loved ones with a disability from being comfortable, the number of solutions continues to grow—especially when it comes to technology.
“Your basic color scale and pattern allows you do to anything for those most part, but the trickiest aspect of design is function,” he says. “Tech has allowed us to change that where you can now control all lighting from your phone when 10 years ago, you needed two light switches: one lower down and one higher up. All these smart home kits, from the thermostat to lighting, is right there in their hands.” He notes how simply setting up your Amazon Alexa or other smart home tech can equip a loved one to control things like lighting, blinds, temperature, among other items, with their voice or via an app on their phone.
How to Create a More Inclusive Home—Even If Temporarily
“ADA has set awesome guidelines,” Schaffer says. “We often get requests for designs with cognitive or physical disabilities in mind and start by taking a look at those guidelines. It’s fun to think about when we step out of our homes, we have entered this universally designed world—it’s only in our homes where that doesn’t exist. Everything, even the sidewalk widths have been specifically designed, and we can help bring that into the home.”
Schaffer says one of the most important things you can do to make your house a more inclusive space for those with disabilities is to focus on the lighting. He says to make sure areas are well lit and to add lamps, if needed, for spaces that may be an accidental hazard. Creating a space in the entry, like placing a chair or small bench next to the front door, can help someone have an accessible place to remove their shoes without bending down. He also advises investing in a few nonslip rugs—or simply rolling up the rugs you already have—to prevent a gathering from going sour.
“One thing I find to be cool style-wise but also important is to place a tufted bench at the end of the bed to create a place to take off shoes,” Schaffer says. “The bedroom is the most important space for guests and having a variety of organizational systems in the closet with different levels are really easy to install—and useful.”
When it comes to creating more permanent solutions for a home that’s becoming an aging-in-place environment, for example, Schaffer says consumers often turn to commercial products because they are the highest-quality and use top-tier materials designed for everyone. Many of these accessible design options can be found in places like Lowe’s or Home Depot, but an interior designer can help guide people in choosing the right solutions for their home that don’t compromise on looks.
“If you love powder rooms with crazy wallpapers for example, you can still find a vinyl-backed wallpaper in a cool print that can fit with the elements of an accessible bathroom,” says Schaffer.
Decorilla works with more than 300 vendors, from sites like Wayfair to custom furniture brands like MGBW, to help customize the space of your dreams in a safe and inclusive way. He also encourages those looking for permanent design solutions to talk to their designer about tech solutions and simple tweaks that will make life instantly easier and a more pleasant place to live for all.
“One thing that’s often forgotten about is mental health and how it restricts people—and how the environment impacts that,” Schaffer says. “We should consider how accessible design affect people’s mental health too. Looking for lighting is the most important thing—thinking through adequacy, colors, and temperatures—as these changes impact your whole house’s mental health. Everyone benefits.”
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