Our demographics are changing. According to Health Canada, at the start of this new century, Canada faces significant aging of its population as the proportion of seniors increases more rapidly than all other age groups. In 2001, one Canadian in eight was 65 years or over. By 2026, one Canadian in five will have reached age 65.

With this aging demographic we can foresee some challenges in housing. While we as Canadians can boast an active lifestyle and excellent healthcare, the reality is that some homes become less and less user-friendly with advancing age or disability.

We attended a CHBA meeting where the guest speaker presented on behalf of Access Nanaimo. The speaker was a young lady attending a local University. Although young and vivacious, she was also confined to a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy.  She spoke of some of her trials and tribulations in visiting friends in their homes. She also addressed the aging population and how some simple design and construction considerations could make homes more “visitable”.

This week, we will post a series of blog entries on topics of Universal Access in the residential setting. This may also be referred to as residential design that allows for “aging in place“.

The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has a wealth of information on this topic which is available online or as downloads.

According to the CMHC, Universal design is defined as:

“The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

The concept is an evolving design philosophy.

Principle 1: Equitable Use

This principle focuses on providing equitable access for everyone in an integrated and dignified manner. It implies that the design is appealing to everyone and provides an equal level of safety for all users.

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use

This principle implies that the design of the house or product has been developed considering a wide range of individual preferences and abilities throughout the life cycle of the occupants.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive

The layout and design of the home and devices should be easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience or cognitive ability. This principle requires that design elements be simple and work intuitively.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information

The provision of information using a combination of different modes, whether using visual, audible or tactile methods, will ensure that everyone is able to use the elements of the home safely and effectively. Principle 4 encourages the provision of information through all of our senses — sight, hearing and touch — when interacting with our home environment.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error

This principle incorporates a tolerance for error, minimizing the potential for unintended results. This implies design considerations that include fail‑safe features and gives thought to how all users may use the space or product safely.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort

This principle deals with limiting the strength, stamina and dexterity required to access spaces or use controls and products.

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use

This principle focuses on the amount of room needed to access space, equipment and controls. This includes designing for the appropriate size and space so that all family members and visitors can safely reach, see and operate all elements of the home.

Stay tuned all this week for further blog posts on this topic.