Incorporating Universal Design into Condominium Ownership

c6fb278dd8568fc95923df08a6efc8dcMy Dad and Grandmother were landlords with several properties in inner city Hartford years ago. It was not an easy job, however, they were good at it. I used to love to travel with my Grandmother every Saturday to collect rents in her big Pontiac station wagon which doubled as a “hardware store.” It was truly an adventure!

Fast forward to today, as I celebrate my one year anniversary as a vacation homeowner. This too has been quite an adventure and a learning curve. I am about to embark on my journey into Universal Design (UD) concepts for my master bath in my lovely Myrtle Beach condominium sitting on a golf course view and only five minutes from the sandy beach.

Buzz words are often meant to impress. If you know the lingo you are perceived to know your stuff. However, when terms are used interchangeably, and incorrectly, it leads to confusion and misinformation.  Such is the case when the worlds of disability, architecture and public perception collide.

Wouldn’t it be great if our world was free and easy for everyone- from gaining access to a building, to taking a shower, to making a cup of coffee, to communicating with others, irrespective of impairment, or no impairment?  Absolutely!  This is why Universal Design was created. According to officials in design architecture at the North Carolina State University, UD is sometimes termed as lifespan design, transgenerational design or user-based good design and goes well beyond accessible, adaptable barrier free design. UD eliminates the need for special (i.e. special spaces, special needs, designed for a specific person). Some persons in the disability community perceive anything designated special needs as stigmatizing, singled out, visually not blending in and more expensive to implement.  UD was forged in part by the unavailability of appropriate, commercially produced products fitting the needs of individuals with disabilities and elderly, particularly as the life cycle lengthens.  (Life expectance according to 2015 CDC data, irrespective of gender or other factors was rated as 78.8 years on average).

Definition-“Universal Design is a design concept which recognizes, respects, values and attempts to accommodate the broadest possible spectrum of human ability in the design of all products, environments, and information systems.” Moreover, UD is meant to enhance opportunities for participation and social integration.  Design staff must have knowledge of these concepts for all ages and abilities. 

From a marketing and economic perspective, UD has the potential to drive the demand higher as products are mass-produced, thus lowering the cost for users.

Why ADA Standards Aren’t and Shouldn’t Be Just “Good Enough”

16769-a-woman-in-a-wheelchair-getting-into-a-shower-pvThe Americans with Disabilities Act was conceived and enacted in 1990, 25 years ago. That is a lifetime in many arenas. Life does not stand still, nor should innovation.

The Problem(s)

  • Terminology – Accessible and Universal – are not synonymous.  Compare the UD definition above with this from the ADA Glossary of Terms – Accessible – is a site, facility, work environment, service or program that is “easy to approach, enter, operate of participate in and use safely with dignity by a person with a disability.”
  • There is an ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal which assesses things like entryways, parking, doorways rest rooms, signage, stairs, elevators phone booths.  The regulations clearly state, that structural, architectural and communication barriers must be removed in public areas of existing facilities when their removal is readily achievable (i.e. easily fixed without much difficulty or expense.)  So, cut that curb, install that ramp, reconfigure that parking space, it seems to be saying, structural only just doesn’t cut it!
  • The fact is, the ADA was created to establish MINIMUM STANDARDS for access and not to support a disabled person’s right to full and active participation in society.
  • The Myth of Grandfathered In   In the initial ADA Regulations, people erroneously thought that there was a grandfather clause or exemption for older buildings. I recall hearing this excuse over and over back in the day whenever I would bring up a concern. Who knows how this myth began. But, according to Disability Rights attorney, Edward Zwiling, he writes that grandfathered in is a myth, and quoted the existing facilities when readily achievable terminology as per CFR36.304 in a recent blog.  He states further that there is a safe harbor if facilities were in full compliance with the 1991 guidelines, which were in force through March 2012. They were not requiring compliance with 2010 Guidelines, except for new areas such as swimming pools, golf facilities, amusement parks.
  • More Shortcomings of the ADA Standards Compared to Universal Design- The ADA Regulations make no allowances for those with cognitive or sensory impairments or ongoing changes due to aging. Remember, the goal of Universal Design (UD) is to not only exceed minimum standards, but to meet the needs of as many users as possible simultaneously by implementing an integrative approach.

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

  • Use of UD should be identical whenever possible, equivalent at minimum to avoid segregation, and stigmatizing. Use must be private, safe, secure and appealing. 
  • 2) Flexibility in Use – UD should accommodate a wide range of individuals and preferences.  Considerations such as handedness, those using a different pace, difficulties with coordination, precision or accuracy. The design should incorporate a choice of methods for ease of use. Examples– ATM’s incorporating visual, tactile, auditory feedback, tapered card opening, palm rest;
  • 3) Simple and Intuitive Use– UD needs to be easy to use irrespective of a person’s experience, knowledge, language or comprehension skills or their ability to sustain concentration. Here, it is important to accommodate language and literacy skills, decrease complexity, recognize the need to create consistent expectation and intuition, arrange information in a hierarchy of importance and provide effective prompting and feedback throughout the process. Examples– A moving sidewalk, escalator, a graphic instruction manual;
  • 4) It’s All in the Perception – UD strives to communicate information effectively, regardless of environmental distractions or user’s sensory abilities/impairments. Thus, providing the option of multi-modality information –graphic –verbal-tactile information, providing adequate contrast to surroundings and using a variety of ways to provide instructions. Examples– Multi-modality thermostat, redundant public signage;
  • 5) Tolerance of Error– In other words, the design and process is “forgiving” if an error is made. (Yah! Just what I need!) UD arranges the components such that errors are minimized, hazards are eliminated and warnings are given. Examples– The “undo” feature in computer software; a double-cut key use in either side;
  • 6) Efficient and Comfortable Design With Little to No Fatigue – This principle for UD encourages a neutral body position, with equipment that is reasonable to operate; Minimal sustained effort or repetitive action required. Examples – Touch lamps without a switch; lever or loop door and faucet handles;
  • 7) Size and Space for Approach and Use-This final design principle concerns having adequate size of interior details (learn about the NW Rugs LA, for example), space, reachability, ability to manipulate and use a device, regardless of a person’s disability, posture or body size. This involves such things as a clear line of sight, reach from a seated position, ability to alter hand and grip size and space when using assistive devices or personal assistance.  Examples –Hand controls on the front of appliances, clear floor space, widened gates in airports.

universal-design-bathroomAll of these principles must be included in any Universal Design. Refer to my forthcoming blogs for more information on related topics. I can’t wait to see my new UD Master Bath completed by the skilled staff of Hospitality Services of South Carolina.

Contact Info And Bath Remodeling – Hospitality Services:


Tel: 843-651-1069 Office


The ADA Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal;

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