Good news? We're living longer. Bad news? The number of disabilities are increasing too. At a time when about 85 million baby boomers are turning 65 years old, it's time to think about universal design, a design approach inclusive of people in all life stages and circumstances.
Whereas accessible housing is designed for someone living with a disability, universal design is intended for the greatest number of people - ranging from crawling tots to elderly living with arthritis. And without the stereotypical clunkiness associated with barrier-free environments.
"From a realtor's perspective, there are years of stigma with accessible homes. People imagine linoleum floors and a hospital environment when universal design is actually the opposite," says John L. Scott realtor and Northwest Universal Design Council member Tom Minty.
Details such as single-story floor plans, open floor plans, clearance under sinks and lever-styled doors are more than a typical IKEA showroom-- they are conscious attempts to improve residents' safety and quality of life.
Minty became a proponent of inclusive design standards after a friend living with multiple sclerosis asked for barrier-free housing options-- a scarcity in the residential marketplace. Minty estimates fewer than one percent of Seattle homes feature universal-design.
The lack of accessible homes is concerning in light of increasing lifespans and disabilities. Minty emphasizes the need to start treating chronic issues in the housing and health care models with preventative, rather than responsive actions.
"We are continuing to build homes that aren't going to be sustainable; the homes won't be able to change as we do," says Minty, who also serves on the Seattle King County Advisory Council on Aging and Disability Services.
While critics of universal-design housing may occupy themselves with the cost of changing business-as-usual models in the real estate industry, Minty claims long-term benefits are high. Instead of scrambling with large-scale, costly renovations tomorrow, implementing universal design today comes with low upfront expenses.
Although the supply of universal-design housing, especially in Seattle, is low, Minty is enthusiastic that increased awareness of this option is the first step to changing the landscape of accessible and inclusive built environments.
"There are alternatives and we need to start demanding them of the industry," said Minty.
Minty will present at the Northwest Universal Design Council's quarterly meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Seattle Municipal Tower.