How to increase accessibility and safety for elders or disabled

When it comes to universal design, what might seem like a luxury today could be a necessity tomorrow. Making your house more accessible to all ages could make it possible for you to remain at home well into old age.

And, according to a recent AARP survey, 83 percent of older Americans want to stay in their current homes for life. In fact, another AARP survey found that 65 percent of Americans over 45 would support state legislation requiring more accessibly designed homes.

Although universal design is far from universal, individual homeowners can go a long way toward making their own homes more comfortable, safe and convenient.

Some of these changes cost little, such as night lights, nonskid tub and shower strips, high-wattage light bulbs and increased lighting at the bottom and top of steps. Some are expensive, such as an elevator or adjustable kitchen systems. Then there's Lutron's bright idea of a wireless lighting system that can control the whole house, even from your car or cell phone. Units start at $850 for one room with two settings, going as high as $1,300-plus for an entire house.

Your nod to accessibility doesn't have to scream "elderly" or "disabled." The changes can be so subtle that most visitors won't even notice. A roll-in, or lipless, shower with a built-in chair, for example, looks more high-end than utilitarian. So do infrared faucets.

You can make adaptations gradually, as you replace appliances and update decor. When you redesign a bathroom, for instance, consider installing a high-rise toilet, a hand-held flexible shower head and a sink with wheelchair access.

When you redo the kitchen, consider slide-out shelving and glass cabinet doors; a side-by-side refrigerator; a cook top with front or side controls, which can be set into a counter top at any height; and a separate oven with a side-swing door.

Many barrier-free products are available at local hardware stores, including Home Depot Expo, Home Depot and Lowe's. Specialty appliance stores and department stores, such as Sears, offer a choice of easy-use gadgets and appliances.

Other products are available on the Internet at,,,, and

Nuts and bolts

To get you started, here's a list of some products that might make your home-life a little easier now and in the future:

Whole house

*Eagle rocker-type light switch, $2.21 at Lowe's.

*Oversized lamp switch, $8 at

*Eagle motion sensing switch, $22.73 at Lowe's.

*Voice-activated light switch, $40 at

*Safety emergency light that goes on during power failure, $20 at

*IntelaVoice wall switch dimmer, $29.99 at

*Doorknob extension lever, $12 at www.

*Exact set projection clock, $69 at www.

*Amplified big button talking phone, $140 at

*Hunter remote control for DVD, fan, VCR and satellite, $59 at Home Depot Expo.

*Hunter Douglas Silhouette battery or electric remote-control window shades, about $670 for 48 by 54 inches at Home Depot Expo.

*Remote controls for fans, $35-$65 at Home Depot Expo.

*Pull-down closet rod, from $335 at Closet World.

*SonicBoom alarm clock with bed shaker, $70 at

*Magic motion doorknob, push-pull access, $15 at

*Schlage bedroom and bath door handle with easy-push lock, $29.99 at Home Depot Expo.


*Kohler Highline 16-inch toilet, ADA-approved, $149 at Home Depot Expo.

*Lever shower faucets, $99-$279 at Home Depot Expo.

*Lever sink faucets, $89-$159 at Home Depot Expo.

*Hansgrohe hand-held shower head with sliding arm, $84 at Home Depot Expo.


*U-Line ADA-compliant refrigerator that fits under a cabinet for access from a wheelchair, $631 at Home Depot Expo.

*KitchenAid microwave with drop-down door, starting at about $1,000 at Home Depot Expo.

*Fisher & Paykel adjustable-height dishwasher, $800 at Home Depot Expo.

*Electric countertop dishwasher, $275-$360 at

*Kenmore raised, front-loading washer, $1,250-$1,600 at Sears.

*Kenmore raised dryer, $1,050 at Sears.

*Washer-dryer combination, $1,130 at

*Thermador ceramic electric cook top with sensor that turns heat off when pot is lifted, $2,000 at or by special order.