I have been able to spend a fair amount of time with my parents in recent years as they have moved, part-time, to the San Luis Obispo area. Recently I am noticing my mother having more and more difficulty with her mobility. As an architect with some understanding of accessible design, it is difficult seeing her struggle with mobility in her own home. Fortunately most homes, including my parents, can be adapted for improved accessibility. My parents, along with many other households, face decisions on adaptation of their home. The US Census Bureau provides statistics that help illustrate how many people we are talking about.

The 2010 US Census reports that 13% of the population is age 65 and over, but that demographic is growing.  The 2000 Census 65-and-over population of 35 million increased to 40 million for the 2010 Census (a 15% increase) and the 2020 projection is for 55 million (a 36% increase for that decade). The 2010 Census also shows that for those age 65-69, nearly 25% report severe disability. Of course that rate increases by age –  see Figure 1 below. More and more of us will have to adapt our homes for accessibility if we want to maintain a comfortable standard of living. So what can we do to facilitate aging in place?


Disability Prevalence by Age, from Americans With Disabilities: 2010, Matthew W. Brault, 2012 http://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/p70-131.pdf

There are different levels of adaptation to consider depending on many factors including individual needs, current conditions, and budget. Adaptations can range from DIY projects easily accomplished by typical homeowners, to more substantial modification of finishes, fixtures, and structure that require design professionals and contractors. The Iowa Program for Assistive Technology at the University of Iowa has published a terrific checklist called the Practical Guide to Universal Home Design. The guide addresses remodeling, building a new home, and buying or renting a home. I encourage you to refer to this as a starting point to plan for the future or to regain full enjoyment and livability of your home. As an example, the image below shows good planning for future accessibility needs. This home is a secondary dwelling, sometimes referred to as a “granny flat” or “in-law flat,” that was built by the property owners for the wife’s parents. Although the ramp was not needed initially, it was included during construction because it is much easier to add such a feature during construction of the house and hardscape. The ramp does not have a handrail and may be too steep to be ADA compliant, but it does not have to be compliant because it is for a private residence. This ramp did however meet the homeowners’ requirements and could be easily outfitted with a handrail when needed. A set of stairs are also included and are located on the far end of the planter, providing a more direct path to the front door for those who can negotiate stairs.

secondary dwelling exterior ramp

Good planning for the future! Exterior ramp for a secondary housing unit (granny flat), MS|Architecture, Photo: Micah Smith

In subsequent posts I will provide a general overview of universal home design by discussing strategies for remodeling an existing home as well as building a new home. I will use the many available resources including the above guide, the California Building Code, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and my own experience to address basic strategies. Please contact me if you have specific questions or would like assistance improving your home’s accessibility. I can be reached at 805-704-7118 or micah@msmith-arch.com.