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Universal design making homes more accessible.

Published

This article appeared in an American newspaper on Sunday, September 30, 2007. Written by McClatchy Newspapers.

 

'The house with the stone exterior on Eugenia Avenue looks like any other house in this quiet neighborhood. But it isn't. The home has extra-wide hallways, lowered kitchen counters, thermostats reachable by people in wheelchairs and level doorways that a person using a walker easily can get through. It's a new style of home building called universal design, meant to make houses accessible to everyone, whether they're disabled, have young children or just want an easier time moving a couch through the front door.

This model is the first of its kind in Fresno, Calif., by a major subdivision builder, and something home buyers will see more of in coming years, says Michael Sigala, Fresno's housing and community development manager. Granville Homes built the model, which made its debut earlier this month. The company worked with the city of Fresno Housing and Community Development Division and several organizations serving the disabled to design it. The house is structured so that it can be easily modified later for specific needs. For example, wooden reinforcements are hidden behind the walls in the bathroom. If grab bars need to be installed near the toilet to help someone with a disability, it easily can be done. Without the reinforcements, homeowners would have to spend thousands of dollars ripping out tile and drywall to install wooden beams that support weight put on the grab bars, says Darius Assemi, a principal of Granville Homes. This model, "Alisio," is a package that adds $1,500 to $2,000 to the price of a standard home. The three-bedroom, two-bath house costs $245,000.

Other features include:
A kitchen sink with knee space underneath for wheelchair users.
Door handles with levers instead of knobs.
Hallways that are 6 inches wider than the minimum standard.
Interior doorways that are 2 inches wider than most doorways.
A front doorway without steps.
A lowered counter with no cupboards underneath.
During a tour of the house, Mary Kasson, 86, of Fresno steered her electric scooter up to the kitchen's lowered counter. She turned her seat so her legs fit easily into the open space underneath it. It would be much easier to fix dinner here than in the kitchen of the rental where she lives, she says. "It's very hard to live in a house where you can't reach things," she says. "You get frustrated." Such a counter also could be used by children who play or help mom cook, without having to balance on a high bar stool, says Marilyn Jost, deputy chairwoman of Fresno's Americans with Disabilities Act advisory council. "Universal design is for everyone, not just the wheelchair user," she says.  Sigala hopes to promote such design in city housing projects and will request that the Fresno City Council require that all affordable housing built with city money use universal design. His department often deals with groups and people with concerns about housing for the disabled, and the department helped connect Granville to people interested in universal design.

Fresno Deputy Mayor Jeff Eben says one of the best things about such design is that it "looks cool." Eben has used a wheelchair since a water-skiing accident at age 16.  "This is forward thinking," he says. "What you don't want is a hospital zone or a construction zone with wooden ramps all over the place." '

 

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