20 April 2011

Annotated Pathfinder--Home Safety

***NOTE: I offered my blog as a place for some of my classmates to post their pathfinders. So far, only one has taken up the charge. Below is her pathfinder. Her name is Lisa Justis. I have made no alterations to her pathfinder, as this is solely her project and I believe we are all entitled to our own work in this arena. I hope some people can find it helpful! Thank you Lisa for the information and for your willingness to share.

Justis Bibliography Pathfinder

Part 1: Basics
This pathfinder is intended for adults who are seeking information on improving the safety, comfort and accessibility of their homes.  The works cited focus primarily on the needs of the elderly, but those of any age facing a disability or who wish to plan for future needs may find this information useful. 

Part 2: Written Resources
Altman, A. (2002). Elderhouse: Planning Your Best Home Ever, White River Junction, Vermont, Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
232 pages, index, bibliography, black and white illustrations

This is a practical guide for creating convenient and sustainable living spaces which promote independence and peace of mind.  The first section of the book helps readers recognize and correct safety and accessibility problems within their own homes.  Some of these problems, such as narrow hallways or awkward bathroom layouts require renovations.  Others can be easily corrected with minor rearrangements or better lighting.  Quick tips and alerts to frequently overlooked hazards are featured in sidebars and boxes.

The second part of the book helps readers decide if “downsizing” makes more social and economic sense than renovating their current home.  Several options are explored, from moving to already “senior friendly” surroundings to rehabbing smaller buildings, or even converting a large home to apartments for income and companionship.  Case histories of people who made those choices are featured.

Part three focuses on creating a vision for one’s new and improved space, be it a major renovation of a new place or simply a practical redecoration of an existing one.  Advice is given on using space efficiently, choosing furniture and finishes, and working with professionals to help make these plans a reality.

Kruger, B., Stewart, N. and Davidson, M. (2010) Knack Universal Design: A Step by Step Guide to Modifying Your Home for Comfortable, Accessible Living, USA, Knack Publishing

265 pages, glossary, index, resource guide, full color photography

This book is an excellent introduction and principle resource for updating an existing home to compensate for aging or other impairments.  Over 400 detailed photographs give clear illustrations of what problems exist in many houses, and how even small changes like moving rugs or replacing door handles can help people remain independent. 

Each chapter addresses a particular room or aspect of home living, including landscaping, flooring, kitchens and baths, cleaning and storage, coping with stairs and deciding what security systems might be good investments.  A wide range of solutions to various problems are offered.  Many are simple “do it yourself” projects, and guidance is offered for asking the right questions to builders and designers about more elaborate fixes.

Of particular interest is the resource list.  Suppliers of  materials large and small which help promote safety and self-reliance are suggested, from manufacturers of kitchen utensils with safety grips to companies selling stair lifts and bathtubs with built in seats.  Links to websites related to “aging in place” are included also.

Brown, S. (2007), Universal Design and Me, Inside MS, 25(4), p.43-44 retrieved from Academic Search Premier

2 pages, 2 color photos
The author, who has multiple sclerosis, introduces readers to her own apartment in St Louis, MO.  The building she lives in is looked to as a model for incorporating “Universal Design” into multi-family dwellings not only to accommodate “handicapped” people, but because it can be aesthetically pleasing and makes life easier for anyone.  The philosophy of universal design is about maximizing the utility of a space for people of a broad range of sizes and abilities without sacrificing style.  Design should be flexible enough to be modified to suit changing needs.  For example, the kitchen sink has a removable baseboard to accommodate a wheelchair.

 Brown feels that many of the features that make her apartment easier to live in would hardly be noticed by most visitors because they are incorporated seamlessly into the tasteful d├ęcor.  Details like the low height of light switches and the use of lever latches instead of door knobs don’t look odd if used consistently, and they make it possible for Brown to enjoy her home.  Everyone loves her wood floors and the contrasting colored stripe along the edges of her countertop.  Does it matter they were chosen so people with poor vision and wheelchairs or walkers would be safe and comfortable?

Perry, J. (1999), Love Those Designer Grab Bars, in U.S. News and World Report, 6/28/99, 126(25), p.82, retrieved from Academic Search Premier

1 page, 1 color photograph
This article takes on the myths that houses which will accommodate the needs of elderly and disabled people are expensive, institutionally ugly, and will suffer from poor resale value.  It focuses on the experiences of a North Carolina couple in their 40s who built a beautiful home which will suit them for many years to come.  It did not cost appreciably more than a “conventional” house to build.  Adding “Universal Design” elements to existing homes during remodeling projects is not significantly more expensive than any other remodeling project either.

As the “baby boomers” age, housing that they like and can remain independent in will increase in demand.  Also, many of who don’t “need” help with accessibility at the present time still appreciate the style and ease of use that comes with well thought out plans for aging or disability.  The choices this couple made in designing their home will both increase its equity and allow them to enjoy their dignity and independence longer than they otherwise might.

Riley II, C.A. (1999), Someone’s in the Kitchen, WE Magazine, 3(5) p.64-70
6 pages, 9 color photos
The kitchen is the heart of the home.  It can also be one of the most dangerous and frustrating places for people with physical disabilities.  This article features design elements and products which have made kitchens safer and more convenient over the years.  Some of those things might seem strange, like the sinks and cabinets that can be raised and lowered with electric motors, while others are so familiar we cease to notice them.  Single lever water faucets, pistol shaped spray nozzles on hoses, and food processors were all originally developed in response to the needs of people with disabilities.

Mainstream manufacturers like General Electric, Black and Decker, and OXO have recognized the appeal of “Universal Design”, and are incorporating it into many of their products.   Small details like big colorful buttons, self-opening doors, and ergonomic handles are “neat” to most of us; they are essential to safety and independence for some.  Expect many of these products and design features to become as familiar as that faucet.

Part 3: Online Resources

American Association of Retired Persons,
As one would expect, AARP provides a great deal of advice for seniors wanting to update their living arrangements.  Their resources include a webcast from a webinar on Universal Design and free booklets on home improvements.  There are also articles on many aspects of safe and comfortable senior living ranging from elder-friendly landscaping, de-cluttering, repurposing rooms for comfort and utility, to sharing space with adult children.  AARP also has guidelines for finding reputable designers and contractors for larger projects.

Of particular interest are the checklists of simple modifications one can make to compensate for particular problems.  Poor hand and arm strength, balance and coordination issues, trouble bending, limited reach, wheelchair use or difficulty standing, visual impairment, and hearing loss are all addressed.  The solutions presented are practical, inexpensive, and require no more skill or tools than are required to change a door handle.  Even small improvements can have big impacts on livability.

The Center for Universal Design,
The Center for Universal Design is based in North Carolina State University’s College of Design.  It was established in 1991 to promote the principles of “Universal Design” by educating designers, builders, and the general public about the benefits of buildings that work well for a wide range of people rather than for some mythical “average” person.  Of particular interest is the certification program whereby buildings can be rated for their accessibility much as they are for energy use.  Developers can take advantage of gold, silver, or bronze classifications to help attract buyers interested in homes that will accommodate them as they age.

For people planning to build a new home, the center sells “Universal Design” house plans in several different models.  It also gives contractors and homeowners instructions on how to install some less than familiar features such as barrier free showers and elevated toilets.  Links are available to help people find contractors with experience building barrier free homes.

East Metro Seniors for Independent Living,
A Practical Guide to Universal Home Design” was developed in 2002 in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.  This 17 page checklist helps users evaluate the accessibility factors of houses and apartments.  Most of our dwellings were designed for an “average” person—that is a fit, healthy, male of average height.  That doesn’t describe very many people, but most of us have gotten used to making do in spaces that weren’t designed for us.  People with different levels of mobility or vision can’t always cope with “one size fits all” housing.
Each area of a home or apartment is addressed individually, from front entrance to bedroom.  Minimum space requirements for each are spelled out, along with specific suggestions for things like flooring materials, lighting, and the placement of electrical outlets.  High priority recommendations are marked “Essential”, while the niceties are listed under “Worth Considering”.  People with limited resources and an immediate need to make their living spaces safer and more accessible will find many items marked with a star.  These greatly enhance quality of life without big expenses or renovations.

Lifease, Inc.,

Lifease was founded about 10 years ago with the goal of helping elderly or disabled people live independently in their own homes by connecting them with ideas, products and services designed to address their specific needs.  The company also provides training and educational resources to occupational therapists and others who work with the disabled and the elderly, increasing their awareness of all the options available to assist their clients.

The key to their customer service program is their “LivAbility” survey.  Clients answer detailed questions about their abilities and limitations, their current living arrangements, and their most desired outcomes.  Lifease then sends them a list of specific products and recommendations that best fit their specific needs.  The “LivAbility” survey is free for the residents of the Minneapolis/St.Paul Metro Area.  Those living elsewhere must pay a $19 fee by credit card for the service.  Information on products which help support independent living can be viewed on the website without taking the survey.

National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Home Modification
The National Resource Center and Home Modification is headquartered in the University of Southern California’s Andrus Gerontology Center.  They provide training and certification to builders and designers and act as a clearinghouse of information on resources for home modification .  It provides a comprehensive list of links to agencies involved in all aspects of making homes safer and more comfortable for older or disabled people.  This includes agencies which may provide grants or other funding for specific projects.

The site also hosts an extensive library of full text articles on universal design and adapting living environments to suit individual needs.  There is a video library featuring discussions of the topic and project examples too. 

Some products which are useful in modifying a home to accommodate changing needs are difficult to find.  You can’t buy a stairlift or kitchen cutlery designed for one handed people just anywhere.  One of the best features of this site is its extensive list of suppliers who sell many such useful products.  Some people who need them might never have known they existed otherwise!

Part 4: Summary
I chose this particular topic because I thought it was useful and timely.  I know several families who are in the midst of lifestyle changes related to the deteriorating abilities of an elderly member.  Helping people to keep as much independence as they safely can for as long as possible seems like a good idea to me.

Though I used my access to USM’s library resources I double checked to make sure the items I found were also available through my public library’s database. A Google “advanced search” yielded one item that I would have looked at anyway (AARP), and a big pile of dreck.

The one frustration I had with finding sources is that so many articles and websites on this topic said exactly the same thing.  Many were also so short that I couldn’t give a 150 word annotation of them without putting myself at risk of committing plagiarism. I guess that’s a symptom of info-abuse, we like the one quick answer so much it keeps getting spewed out over and over again.

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