When Jeremy J. Chatelain moved to Colorado Springs for a new job last year, he knew finding the right house would be difficult. As a person with quadriplegia, Jeremy knew there were several features he had to have in his new home that wouldn’t be easy to find. Zero-step entries, roll-in showers, lower light switches, raised electrical outlets, lever handle doors, lever knob deadbolts, pull faucets, and extra-wide interior and exterior doors were essential.
Owning other homes before, Jeremy and his wife have always had to make major home modifications in order for Jeremy to live in each of their homes. These modifications have ranged from building door ramps, to elevating the bath tub onto wooden beams in order to fit a Hoyer-style lift underneath so Jeremy could bathe. The process was painstaking, expensive, and often left much to be desired.
When Jeremy first began speaking to local home builders, no one seemed to have the combination of accessibility features he was looking for. When he came across Challenger Homes, things started looking up. As part of their standard floorplan options, Challenger had a couple of homes that could be built to incorporate the principles of universal design. This was a game changer. Knowing this, Jeremy felt a sense of relief, and knew that Challenger would build his next home.
Universal design is a concept that is planned into residential or commercial design from the beginning and is intended to be useable by the greatest number of people. The purpose is to design a space that can be used by people with or without disabilities alike, without having to make alterations for an individual’s particular needs. At first glance, a home designed using universal design principles is hard to differentiate from a non-accessible home.
Universal design differs from accessible design in that accessible design addresses the needs of a specific disability or individual, such as Braille for a person who is blind or wide doorways for a person who uses a wheelchair. Many times, accessibly designed homes are retrofitted to become accessible after a person with a disability moves in. This can result in a home that was obviously modified to accommodate an individual with a specific disability.
Upon entering Jeremy’s home, it’s hard to tell it’s different than any other new home. You really have to search to identify what makes it a universally designed home. But when the features are pointed out, it seems obvious. Jeremy tells me, “The entry ways are such a needed point for somebody in a wheelchair.” And he’s right. The threshold leading from the exterior entryway of the home to the foyer is the same level, meaning that anyone in a wheelchair can easily enter and exit the home without having to traverse the several inch drop found in a standard home. The light switches are lowered and the wall outlets are raised, both to a level that is easier to reach for someone in a wheelchair. These are just a few examples, but really highlight how simple and inexpensive changes during construction can make life much easier for people with disabilities, without affecting usability for people who don’t have disabilities.
For Jeremy, his universally designed home is everything he hoped it would be. I can tell he’s proud when he gives me a tour. It’s beautiful – and it doesn’t look like it was designed for someone who uses a wheelchair. It’s a home that could be used by a person of any ability, now or in the future as one ages. I only wish that more home builders would realize there are plenty of people out there who would happily support the prospect of purchasing a home that was built using universal design principles. When discussing how you compel home builders to build more universally designed homes, Jeremy says “I would solicit a business that has specifically chosen to use universal design.” And he has a good point. With nearly twenty percent of the U.S. population recognized as has having a disability, that is a huge swath of the housing market that isn’t being served. Seems like common sense to me.