- The Washington Times - Friday, May 5, 2000

AARP is calling this week (May 1 through 7) Independent Living Week to raise awareness about the "universal design" concept for houses. A series of volunteer events are planned around the country to help demonstrate how the middle aged and elderly can live longer in their own homes.
At a news conference on Monday, AARP released the results of its new survey, "Fixing to Stay."
In 2,000 random telephone interviews conducted nationwide with persons 45 and older, 85 percent of respondents said they have made simple changes, such as adding nonskid strips in bathtubs and using higher-wattage light bulbs.
AARP says universal-design modifications to existing homes can enable older Americans to add years to living independently.
Since AARP began doing surveys on this topic in 1986, it has lowered its age of respondents from 60 to 45.
It also has found that the trends of its surveys have changed. People are becoming increasingly concerned about living independently in their homes. A growing number of people foresee difficulty in getting around within the next five years.
The survey also reflected an increase in the number of people who have made modifications in their homes.
The goal of AARP, says Leon Harper, senior housing specialist for the group, is to go beyond the Americans With Disabilities Act and make housing ergonomically correct with wider, more-accessible entrances with no steps or barriers; grips in bathtubs; wider hallways; and other design features.
AARP wants to change the ways houses are built and modify older houses, Mr. Harper says.
This is where universal design comes in. It is a concept that emphasizes designs that accommodate the changing needs of people who are aging.
These changes can be incorporated easily in new housing. Older homes also can be modified to enhance the safety and independence of aging residents.
Of 100 million housing units, fewer than 10 percent have accessibility features built into them, according to AARP. Its research indicates that more than 50 million Americans have disabilities.
In new housing, the changes can be as simple as adding stair rails and bathroom grab bars, changing the depth of stairs, making hallways wider and entrances accessible and as many builders are doing placing the master suite on the first level.
To promote universal design and evaluate design solutions, the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University was established.
Dick Duncan, director of the center, based at the Raleigh, N.C., campus, says universal design can help people stay in their homes while they grow older.
Mr. Duncan says the failure to include housing in health care is an impediment. He added that people should be able to get information on universal-design modifications from health care providers.
The center receives funding from the Department of Education. Its Web site is www.design.ncsu.edu/cud.

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