Design concepts making living more accessible for disabled

Email this story

Printer friendly format

Enter a Category

View List

The Hartford Courant

January 13, 2005, 1:14 PM EST

GLASTONBURY, Conn. -- Nestled near the end of a driveway, the two-story clapboard-and-stone colonial makes a subtle but firm first impression: Gracious living practiced here.

Outside the home where Greg Hughes lives with his yellow lab, Lincoln, retaining walls and terraced ramps tame the property's slopes and invite visitors to stroll the landscaped grounds.

Inside, polished red-oak floors, oriental rugs, elegantly upholstered walls and doorways artfully encased by carved moldings reflect the owner's style and success long before he greets visitors in his motorized wheelchair.

Hughes, 39, lost the use of his arms and legs in a car crash when he was 17. But while his disability has obviously affected the course of his life, it does not define him.

Like Hughes, the house design accepts the realities of life with a wheelchair, but without compromising on comfort or style.

Experts say this is a new model for home design that everyone should embrace, even if they are young and active.

An increasingly popular concept known as universal design is based on the notion that any building should be attractive and usable by all people, regardless of age or physical ability. The idea has caught on as the population ages and people seek to remain in their homes instead of moving to retirement communities.

"It's difficult to swallow that we're all going to need these things," said Brookfield interior designer Mary Jo Peterson, who specializes in creating accessible kitchens and bathrooms.

For that reason, some designers say any home renovation or new construction should include accessibility features such as no-step entrances, extra-wide doorways, lever door handles, no-lip showers and at least some lower counters and under-sink leg room in the kitchens and baths.

And nobody should be able to notice.

"We don't want it to look institutional," said Carol Peredo Lopez, national architecture director for the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Lopez is completing a book on accessible design.

"Most of the images in our book do not look like a wheelchair user lives there," she said.