An American Institute of Architects experiment gave industry professionals a taste of what mobility restrictions feel like.

13 Universal Design Products Builders Should Be Using Now

An American Institute of Architects experiment gave industry professionals a taste of what mobility restrictions feel like.

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    Courtesy Foremost Groups

    Comfort-Height Toilet: A comfort-height toilet measuring 16 inches or 17 inches off the floor is easier for sitting.

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    Courtesy Duravit

    Wall-Hung Toilet: A wall-mounted bowl can be placed at any height and makes a bathroom easier to clean up. An in-wall tank also adds extra floor space.

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    Courtesy Kohler

    Safety Tub: Easy to get in and out of, this unit from Kohler has a door that slides up and down so it’s easy for anyone to use.

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    Courtesy Danze

    Touchless Kitchen Faucet: A single-handle faucet is easier to operate than a double-handle one, but a touchless electronic faucet is even better.

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    Courtesy Moen

    Touchless Bath Faucet: A hands-free electronic faucet is excellent for the bathroom too.

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    Courtesy Baldwin Hardware

    Lever Handle: A lever handle is smoother to operate than a round door knob and can be opened with an elbow.

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    Courtesy Yale Commercial Locks & Hardware

    Keyless Lock: A keyless lock that can be opened with a key pad is easier for everyone to open.

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    Courtesy Miele

    Freezer Drawer: Refrigerators with accessible freezer drawers are easy to reach for individuals in wheelchairs.

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    Courtesy Sub-Zero

    Appliances in Drawers: Refrigerator drawers are easier to access and don't require as much bending.

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    Courtesy Lutron Electronics

    Flat Switches: Flat rocker light switches are easier to operate than standard toggle switches.

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    Courtesy QuickDrain USA

    Zero-Clearance Drain: Line drains allow you to eliminate the barriers and thresholds of a shower and are much more accessible for a wheelchair.

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    Courtesy Whirlpool Corp.

    Accessible Range: An ADA-compliant stove makes cooking safer and more comfortable. The handles, buttons, and graphics are located on the front, positioned closer to the user.

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    Courtesy Electrolux

    Induction Cooktop: An induction cooktop (which uses magnetic energy) boils water faster than an electric unit but stays relatively cool to touch.

Earlier this year at the 2011 American Institute of Architects' (AIA) annual convention, plumbing giant TOTO conducted a 15-minute universal design experiential mini-course, hoping to give architects the opportunity to experience first-hand how physically challenged and older individuals navigate a bathroom.

“TOTO’s goal for our strategic partnership with the AIA is to encourage the inclusion of socially sustainable design, which combines the principles of universal design with those of environmental sustainability in architecture’s mainstream best practices for good design,” said David Krakoff, senior vice president of sales at the company.

The course put participants in the place of physically challenged individuals by reducing their mobility and outfitting them in a suit designed to simulate the effects of aging.

Special goggles reduced participants’ peripheral vision and mimicked the eyesight deterioration of cataracts; earplugs reduced their ability to hear high-frequency sound; a back brace restricted their ability to stand erect; range-of-motion restrictors for their elbows and knees allowed them to experience the sluggish movement of the physically infirm; and 1-pound weights on their wrists and ankles enabled them to experience the effects of muscle and range-of-motion loss.

Once outfitted in the suit and seated in a wheelchair, architects performed a series of hygiene-related tasks, first in a traditional bathroom and then in a universally designed bathroom.

“The objective of this side-by-side comparison is to have the architects feel the difference between the two bathroom designs and come to appreciate the importance that universal design features have in all good design,” Krakoff explained.

What’s clear from the exercise is that universal design must assume greater important for new-home builders, says Washington-based AARP. Manufacturers already are aware of the issue, the group says, and are developing user-friendly appliances, fixtures, and other products.

“Manufacturers understand that universal design products that serve an aging population serve everyone better,” says Nancy Thompson, AARP's senior media relations manager. “Once consumers see user-friendly good design in action, they want it too.”

Here are some product types to consider for your homes.