Universal design is not a list of specifications, it is an approach to design that considers the varied abilities of users.
Last week, a forum on universal design was held in Belton. Developers, architects, accessibility experts and a parent of children with disability spoke at the event.
Jim Durham, registered accessibility specialist for the state of Texas, talked about how universal design is good business.
There are several principals of universal design: Equitable use, flexibility in use, simple intuitive use, tolerance for error, local physical effort and size and space for approach.
An automatic door benefits a person in a wheelchair and a person who has their hands full.
“That’s equitable use,” Durham said.
Scissors can be made with large opening in the handle that can be used by people who are right-handed or left-handed.
The manufacturer can make one pair of scissors that fit the needs of many people, he said.
Oversized red buttons are intuitive. The buttons draws attention and are used in doorways and in parking lots to call for emergencies.
Nail guns won’t fire unless pushed up against an object and is an example for tolerance for error, Durham said.
Examples of low physical effort are paddle handles instead of door knobs, and single levers on faucets.
“If you don’t know someone who has these disabilities now, you will,” he said.
One Sunday afternoon, Durham was sitting at his desk and had a spontaneous bleed in his spinal cord.
“The bleed didn’t have anything to do with anything, but it put me in a wheelchair,” he said. “It can happen to anybody at any time.”
“A person in a wheelchair can’t get through the typical turnstile and if there is no one to lift the wheelchair over the barrier, you’re stuck,” Durham said.
People with disabilities want to get out and go places and don’t want to be shut out, he said.
New rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act include making recreation accessible.
In Texas, plans for new commercial buildings and renovations over $50,000 have to be reviewed to a registered accessibility specialist to determine if it will pass inspection.
The person without disability won’t notice if there is break in a reception counter, where a person in a wheelchair can be accommodated. It’s a requirement now.
Texas is getting better about making accessibility a requirement, Durham said.
“Almost everything to do with taking your money is accessible, like the ATM machine,” he said.
Jody Copp, with Raising Wheel Foundation, spoke about his family’s experience in getting an accessible home that his two young sons can maneuver inside and out with ease.
Married to Melissa Copp, their sons, Lawson and Calan, were born with a genetic mutation in their mitochondria that affects their ability to walk or stand.
There are 11 people in the world that have the same mutation.
“Up until recently we thought there were only two,” Copp said.
In a previous home, Melissa took a photo of their sons staring out the window watching their father working in the yard.
“It broke our hearts,” he said. “There was no way they could get out there.”
The Copps were told by builders they were asking for something impossible when they went looking for a home that was accessible and affordable.
The boys don’t qualify for government assistance because their condition is so rare, so medical bills are huge.
The family found a house that had been gutted, which was perfect, because doorways didn’t have to be widened or bathrooms enlarged.
Chip and Joanna Gaines of the Fixer Upper TV series and the Tim Tebow Foundation stepped up to help the Copps build their dream home.
“We named our home Hope,” he said.
A ramp, not noticeable to most, leads to the double door entrance.
There are three thresholds in the house and all are level.
The floor plan is wide open, giving the boys room to maneuver their wheelchairs and walkers without bumping into furniture or walls.
There is an automatic door opener on one of the doors that leads from the living room to the back yard, allowing the children to go outside without assistance.
“For the first time I’ve been able to tell the boys to go outside and play, and as a father that’s awesome,” he said.
There is a concrete path that goes around the perimeter of the back yard.
The playhouse opens on both sides with barn doors. The floors are made from rubber mats.
The kitchen was constructed with many adaptable items, self-closing drawers and large pull handles that give the youngsters leverage. The conduction cook top cools off faster than regular and electric stoves. The side opening oven was a special order. The refrigerator’s top half is a standard French door refrigerator. The bottom also has French doors with the bottom left is a freezer and the bottom right can be a freezer or refrigerator.
The boys’ bedroom has grab bars along the walls. There is a magnet board, a Lego board and a cork board.
“Standing helps the boys in many ways, both mentally and physically,” Copp said.
A chest of drawers were built into the closet, minimizing items in the bedroom.
The bathroom has non-slip tile with an accessible sink with water and soap, enabling Lawson and Calan to wash their own hands.
The boys’ locker room is all tile. The shower has three options and is big enough for a wheelchair. The bathroom floor slants toward a drain in the floor.
The most prized item in the house is an adult changing table that automatically raises, saving the backs of Jody and Melissa Copp.
Both boys are incontinent which requires them to be changed. The table cost $10,000 and was funded through a grant from Heart of Central Texas Independent Living.
“We thought we would see the boys become more independent in the new house, but actually seeing it in real life really makes a difference,” Copp said.
The Copps had asked the Fixer Upper team to make their home functional, but they received much more, he said.