By Deborah Pierce

home213_1The Accessible Home: Designing for All Ages and Abilities started as a question: What does it take to make a home where a person with disabilities can live a normal life?

It’s a question that families ask whenever injury or illness occurs. As an architect, I had upgraded many public buildings for access over the years and thought of myself as somewhat of an ADA expert when a new client posed this question at the start of our work together. One of her children had multiple disabilities — she was shy and dependent at home but gregarious and mobile at school. A normal life for this child would mean a chance to share in household chores, play with her siblings, keep up with her friends, and self-manage the activities of daily living.

In answering the question, I eventually did 25 case studies of people with a common desire — to live with ease and comfort in homes where their disabilities all but disappear. Their physical conditions varied in details but were somewhat similar, yet their homes couldn’t be more different — two-story houses and single-level ranches, old buildings and new, phased and all-at-once renovations, cold climates and temperate zones. Singles, couples, children and dogs. The houses reflect individual personalities and the lifestyles of family members, as well as the architectural character and regional
setting of each building.

The homes, while unique, also share many similarities. They are open, functional, and attractive. Taken together, the homes tell a compelling story about the current state of residential Universal Design — places that work for everyone. Each house has wide pathways linking activity centers — the openness of loft living with the intimacy of a traditional home. Each has a comfortable kitchen where cabinets are within easy reach and countertops can be used by a seated cook. Bathrooms are nice places to spend time, designed with low maintenance and safety in mind. Details are simple and
thoughtful — from appliance and hardware selections to locations of light switches.