Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tomorrow in Our "Future Home"

The Carousel of Progress -- the longest running stage show in the history of American theatre -- is a popular attraction currently located in Tommowland at the "Magic Kingdom" of Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

It was designed as the prime feature of the General Electric Pavilion for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair,
then was moved to Tomorrowland at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California (1967-1973), and finally reopened in its present home in 1975. It was updated in 1964, 1967, 1975, 1981, 1985, & 1994. The last of the six scenes on the Carousel projects a vision of the home of the future, while the theme song, "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow", plays optimistically.

With the projected number of seniors in America who want to stay at home, perhaps that last scene should be updated again. The model might be the home described in the radio story "
'Future Home' Adds Ease to Living for Everyone", by Joseph Shapiro, which was broadcast on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" on Thursday, October 19, 2006. You can listen to it here.
Dave Ward is the resident curator of the place he calls the Future Home, a house that he has turned into a model of "universal design." It's the idea that where we live -- and the technology and products we use -- should be designed so they are easy to use for anybody, including a quadriplegic, like Ward or an elderly person who's frail or has cognitive disabilities.

The Future Home is in the middle of a state park in Phoenix, Md., about an hour north of Baltimore. The house is historic, but it mixes the old with the futuristic.

"This house was first built in 1855," Ward explains, "It was built as a tavern and inn, and it served the horse and buggy trade that traveled from Baltimore to Harrisburg, Pa."

When Dave became a quadriplegic after a fall in 1977 at the age of 30, he became interested in the concept of "universal design" as applied to where he lived, his historic house.

The NPR story explains the concept of "universal design": "The principles of universal design call for safe, user-friendly products that everyone can use, to avoid stigmatizing or segregating those who need them. The goal is to allow your family and friends to enjoy your home for years to come."

These design principles affect every aspect of a residence -- parking areas, building access, meal preparation, storage, furniture & fixture usage, climate control, and so much more. The article explains that new, cheaper technology can make possible a house that will be more user-friendly to a person of limited mobility. That would make a house, a home, for much longer.

In a companion text article, entitled "Oh Give Me a Home Where I Can Age in Place", the author, Adeline Goss, asks: "Is your home user friendly?" She adds: "That’s a question for people with disabilities as well as for anyone who's aging."

She replies by citing "universal design" principles: "
On a practical level, universal design calls for brighter lights, safer stairs, symmetrical scissors (for righties and lefties) and other accommodations. The goal is to allow your family and friends to enjoy your home for years to come."

Center for Universal Design (CUD), at North Carolina State University, is one resource for "universal design" nationally. It is an information, technical assistance, and research center that evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible and universal design in housing, commercial and public facilities, outdoor environments, and products. CUD explains that design should accommodate users' variances in sight, hearing, movement, and thought, and also consider the range of users' ages. Examples are illustrated here. CUD offers three catalogs of "Universal and Accessible Home Plans" here.

Another organization, Universal Design Education Online, seeks to train professionals and to inform consumers. It offers a great list of resources, under the heading "Accessible Design/Universal Design Resources".

How can we make
"future homes" from our present abodes?

The NPR article outlines some simple steps on these concerns, which I paraphrase:
  • See Better
  • Sense Better
  • Prevent Accidents
  • Grip, don't Slip
  • Relax in Place & Reduce Exertion
  • Reach safely

AARP introduces seniors to "universal design" principles here, and then offers ten simple tips for improving an existing home:

  • Install handrails on both sides of all steps (inside and outside)
  • Secure all carpets and area rugs with double-sided tape
  • Install easy to grasp shaped handles for all drawers and cabinet doors
  • Use brighter bulbs in all settings
  • Install nightlights in all areas of night activity
  • Add reflective, non-slip tape on all non-carpeted stairs
  • Install lever handles for all doors
  • Place a bench near entrances for setting down purchases and resting
  • Install closet lights, as well as adjustable rods and shelves
  • Install rocker light switches; consider illuminated ones in select areas.
Yes, change comes; and it should be anticipated. Even on the Carousel of Progress, the current voice of the Grandfather was the original voice of the Father in the New York World's Fair version.