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Senior Citizen crossing the street

National Senior Citizen's Day

National Senior Citizen’s Day recognizes the important accomplishments, devotion, and services older adults give throughout their lives to create better communities. The IDEA Center actively engages with older adults in our community through focus groups, usability testing, and surveys. One major effort is our collaboration with Erie County on developing an Age-Friendly Center of Excellence. This project incorporates universal design into initiatives that are crucial to seniors across county departments. The IDEA Center also advocates for older adults to age in place by designing homes and environmental interventions that are accessible and/or universally designed. To date, the Center has completed over 1000 home modification projects that have improved the usability of people’s homes, many of whom are older adults.

The Importance of Universal Design and Aging in Place

The older adult population is growing. The 2020 US Census reported that the US older population will increase dramatically from 40.3 in 2010 million to 85.7 million by 2050. Only 10% of the existing housing stock adequately accommodates the needs of the current older adult population. With this increase, there will be a tremendous need for housing to allow older adults to age in place safely and comfortably. Implementing universal design can help address this growing need. Universal design is a strategy intended to be incorporated into all facets of product and environmental design, including housing. Practicing universal design means adopting a more inclusive approach that extends beyond the average user to address the needs of different populations. Danise Levine, IDEA Center Assistant Director and architect, says that “as the desire to age-in-place becomes more prevalent than it has been in the past, design professionals (such as architects, home builders, and product designers) are starting to design houses and products that consider functional diversity in the way people live in houses and in the way they use products. Specifically with aging in place, designers have learned to not just design for a person’s current abilities or disabilities, but take into account people’s changing physical abilities and needs over time.” As the population ages, adequate planning can allow individuals and families to incorporate universal design into their homes.

The Goals of Universal Design

Universal design is a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation. The IDEA Center developed the 8 Goals of Universal Design to expand UD’s original focus and include social participation and health and wellness. When designing a home for universal design, these goals provide the necessary guidance.

exhibit display at the of hand dryer mounted on a wall at different heights

Body Fit

Accommodating a wide a range of body sizes and abilities

Aeron chair


Keeping demands within desirable limits of body function and perception

tactile guide strips in a hotel lobby


Ensuring that critical information for use is easily perceived

NYC subway training stop identification system


Making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous

NYC streetscape with focus on a bikelane


Contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and protection from hazards

people sitting, walking and talking along a boardwalk

Social Integration

Treating all groups with dignity and respect

closeup of an iphone screen showing multiple apps


Incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences

individuals pulling portable water carriers

Cultural Appropriateness

Respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social and environmental contexts of any design project

Implementing Universal Design in Homes

There are several simple ways to make a home more universally designed. Replacing door knobs with lever handles reduces wrist and hand stress. Additionally, reduction of hand and wrist stress can also be achieved by adding faucets with touch activation or easy to use double or single lever handles. Lighting is also an important aspect of universal design. Today, lighting solutions such as LED provide flexibility for individuals to implement a variety of lighting types within their homes, which can assist those with low vision. Here’s a list of common features often found in a universally designed home:

Spatial Organization and Design

  • Single-level design with open floor plan or wider hallways
  • At least one barrier-free entry with no raised threshold 36” wide doors throughout
  • Lever-style handles on all doors instead of knobs
  • Lowered light switches and raised outlets reachable from a seated position
  • Slip-resistant flooring throughout
An open floor plan with furniture arranged to provide clear pathways to travel around the home.


  • Storage located within a comfortable reach range
  • Loop handled hardware on cabinets and drawers instead of knobs
  • Roll-out shelves in cabinets
    Self-closing drawers
  • Lever-style faucets on kitchen sinks
LIFEhouse™ Kitchen Island: Varying height counters make cooking tasks easier for more people. Chair-level seating at the island is safer than stool seating.


  • Ample space for maneuvering and transfers
  • Barrier-free, curbless shower
    Offset shower or tub controls so they can easily be reached from outside the tub or shower
  • Handheld, height adjustable showerhead that can easily be positioned at a comfortable height for anyone
  • Blocking behind shower walls and adjacent to toilet for the future installation of grab bars
  • Higher, elongated toilet
  • Anchored towel bars that can be used as grab bars if needed
  • Lever-style faucets on bathroom sinks
A roll-in shower with non-slip floor, grab bars and reinforcement behind walls provides for the needs mobility users and older adults.

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