Meeting Recap - Universal Design Panel PART I

Posted by on 19 May 2015 | 0 Comments

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Universal design challenges professionals to think about creating environments that match the needs of users.  This frameshift in thinking set the stage for the vibrant discussion at the May EM NARI membership meeting.  The evening featured a panel discussion moderated by Paul Morse, MCR, GCP, CPS, CAPS of Morse Constructions, Inc.  Paul’s design/build renovation firm integrates the principles of universal design in many projects to ensure that their clients can continue to enjoy a beautiful and functional space as their mobility needs change.  Panel presenters included:

  • Josh Safdie, Assoc. AIA, Kessler, McGuinness & Associates
  • Lisa Bonneville, FASID, NCIDQ, Bonneville Design
  • Carol DeRienzo, RN, CAPS, CHM, UDCP, Solace RNovations
  • Terry Steen, Nationwide Lifts of Massachusetts

JS HeadshotJosh set the stage for the evening by giving some background information and an introduction to Universal Design principles.  He emphasized the magnitude of the need to create functional spaces as the global population is aging at a rate of 30,000 new individuals turning 65 each day.  He encouraged design professionals to redefine disability as merely a mismatch with one’s environment – noting that we would all be “disabled” if asked to function in outer space!  The goal should be to create environments that match the needs of users.  Equity is at the top of the list of universal design principles.  Josh also reminded us that accessible design is different from universal design.  Accessible design ensures that spaces comply with the minimum standards set by law.  Universal design goes much further.  It suggests an “attitude toward design which acknowledges the diversity of human ability, age, and culture in every aspect of our physical, information and communication environments.”


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Lisa Bonneville followed by sharing the findings of her ASID Foundation Grant funded research.  Her report entitled “Developing a Cost Comparison Tool for Planning Ahead to Age in a Home Designed to the Standards of Universal Design and Accessibility vs Moving into an Assisted Living Facility.” Lisa shared a wealth of resources with the crowd that could help industry professionals better communicate with clients about their options.  In many cases, it is cheaper to stay in the home and remodel than to enter assisted living too early. As Lisa said that evening, "Your house shouldn't tell you when it's time to leave home." 


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Carol DeRienzo brought the unique perspective of a nurse to the remodeling process.  At Solace RNovations, Carol specializes in communicating with clients about their needs.  Her approach is to think carefully about the small details that allow a person to be functional in their space today AND in the future.  Details often overlooked – like small adjustments in counter height – can have a major impact on functionality.  And, by incorporating the principles of universal design in every project, her clients can adapt to unforeseen changes.  She cited a project done for an able-bodied client who was the victim of a major car accident a month after her remodel.  Because of Carol’s approach – integrating universal design into every project – the client was functional in her space even after the accident.  Carol’s message was to 1) listen and understand your clients’ needs today and 2) learn best-practices to ensure that your work will serve your clients long term needs.


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Terry Steen shared an overview of a supplier’s perspective on Universal Design and shared information about options for elevators and chairlifts as part of remodeling projects.  She emphasized involving suppliers early the process and finding reputable partners by networking or word of mouth.  She also offered these tips when it comes to designing spaces to accommodate chairlifts or elevators:

  • Avoid multiple levels within a level (step downs)
  • Straight staircases are best – curved staircases triple the cost of a chair lift
  • Lifts are a great alternative to ramps because they use less space.
  • Elevators start at about $30,000.  Massachusetts code is out of date and does not allow for newer technologies that don’t require a pit, etc.  Our industry needs to encourage the state to update the code.


Members were engaged and asked a number of thoughtful questions.  With so much to talk about and so little time, we decided to collect audience questions and have our panelists respond via our blog.  Check out Part II in this series – with the answers to your questions!

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