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The Benefits of Universal Design

Of all the responsibilities of being a board member of a residential building, few are as important as ensuring the safety of your residents. Making and clearly communicating emergency plans, marking entrance/egress points, posting evacuation routes, and conducting periodic fire and disaster drills are all crucial parts of the job.

Every community has different needs when it comes to emergency preparedness, as some older populations need services that they wouldn’t have even considered a decade ago.

South Florida’s warm climate makes it an ideal destination for retirees. Florida has the greatest population of people who are at least 65 (17.3 percent), followed by West Virginia (16 percent), Maine (15.9 percent), and Iowa (14.9 percent).

These changing needs of a population has given rise to the concept of Universal Design – the idea of making buildings, products and environments that are accessible to everyone, regardless of age or physical ability.

Universal Design

Universal Design is a series of inter-related amenities incorporated into an overall design scheme that makes living spaces “usable by the people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design,” according to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

“Every locality has building codes that need to be adhered to,” says Scott Pruett, recreation therapist and co-owner of Universal Design Alliance in Harrisonburg, Virginia. “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the federal standard, but we see a number of issues that aren’t followed. Universal design is a larger scope than the ADA. We look at the environment and what will be functional for as many people as possible. It gets away from the idea of a checklist and gets people to think if they are going to rent to someone what can be done to make sure the unit works for everybody, including someone with a physical disability and someone with a hearing deficit.”

The National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) is the longest-running national cross-disability, grassroots organization run by and for people with disabilities. Founded in 1982, NCIL represents thousands of organizations and individuals including: Centers for Independent Living (CILs), Statewide Independent Living Councils (SILCs), individuals with disabilities, and other organizations that advocate for the human and civil rights of people with disabilities throughout the United States.

According to the NCIL’s 2013 report on legislation and policy priorities, “NCIL is a cross-disability organization and applies the term ‘accessible’ broadly, emphasizing physical accessibility, accommodations for persons with sensory (visual or hearing), emotional, developmental and intellectual disabilities, and persons with chemical and electrical sensitivities. The need for housing that accommodates a wide-range of disabilities is increasing due to community living options replacing costly and unjust institutionalization, many veterans returning with disabilities, the high rate of homelessness among people with disabilities, and aging of the population.”



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