Enabling Environments

It seems as if disability issues and aging issues are coming together in the public consciousness like never before. Consider environmental gerontology.

Ester Greenhouse is the perfect name for an environmental gerontologist (at Cornell University) who is also a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) and Trainer.

She writes that most design standards are based on male adults within the 5th to 95th percentiles of athropomorphic data. Not surprisingly then, countertops in my home cannot be accessed (or even seen, really) by children or anyone seated (wheelchair or not). And yet, in the kitchen, all the action takes place on the countertops. It would be SO nice to have a countertop situated at a lower level, as I have seen in the universally-designed Cohoes Village Green for elders. This means that Mary, a resident, can don a hairnet and toss salad for dinner, while seated in her wheelchair, surrounded by staff members preparing other aspects of the meal. Design = community empowerment.

Go to the National Association of Certified Homebuilders website and you learn that the Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist (CAPS) designation program teaches the technical, business management, and customer service skills essential to competing in the *fastest growing* segment of the residential remodeling industry: home modifications for the aging-in-place.

My sense is, certification or not, social workers and others are increasingly doing this work, assessing elder’s homes and recommending a variety of simple design modifications (shower chairs, grab bars, ramps). And really, these are things we could all use. When my wobbly two-year-old stands up in the bathtub, I wish we had a grab bar that she could hold onto. And a ramp for the stroller sure would come in handy…

For Esther Greenhouse’s article in CDQ:

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Meika Loe

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