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Community Spotlight: The Universal Design Project

Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 12:34 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - 26 percent of the U.S. adult population lives with some sort of disability, and many of the homes that are available don’t even come close to meeting current or future needs.

The Universal Design Project is hoping to change that, starting from the ground up.

Co-founder Scott Pruett has been living with a spinal cord injury for over half of his life, and finding a functional home was not easy.

“For example, I use a wheelchair. So, it’s not just can I get a wheelchair inside, but from a seated position, can I prepare a meal, can I clean up after a meal, can I easily get into the shower?” he explained.

Not being able to access all parts of your home can have a big impact on your quality of life.

“It decreases their confidence. It can have secondary health issues, so if it’s difficult to say, prepare a meal, then people will default to more convenient options... Things like that, that have a ripple effect into other areas of life,” Scott said.

The Universal Design Project is working to increase the supply of homes that can be accessible to all people so they can live life to the fullest.

“What we would love to see in the community is that homes would be designed and built from the start super functional, so when people go through something traumatic, they actually don’t have to do all of these renovations,” Sarah Pruett, UTD co-founder, said.

“There’s a lot of variation in terms of people’s ability or disability throughout the community,” Scott added. “What we try to look at is how can we incorporate as much function as possible for as many people as possible, and once we ask that question, then it’s, well how do we make that happen?”

Having a front door that is at least 36 inches wide and can accommodate a wide variety of mobility devices, having a bedroom and bathroom on the main floor, and having rooms with big enough spaces are just a few features that can help make a home more accessible.

“There are several hundred features that can be integrated into a design together that can look as ‘normal’ as possible,” Scott said.

But making a home functional means having the entire home accessible.

“Maybe there is a family out there that has multiple people living with different abilities. We have a daughter, so if her bedroom is upstairs, my husband can’t go upstairs to do all of those parenting things,” Sarah explained.

Making designs to accommodate a wide variety of needs is a collaborative effort.

“We work with health care providers, we work with people who actually have disabilities, as well as architects. When everyone comes together to work on a house plan, all of those voices are heard to make the home functional as possible,” Sarah said.

Having a universally designed space, helps people have more time to do the things they really want to do.

“It gives people confidence because they’re able to do their daily tasks easily, and it gives them a purpose and fulfill the roles that they want to fulfill,” Sarah said.

Right now, the organization is looking to work with community partners to help build a demonstration home to show people what a universally accessible home looks like and the benefits that can come from it.

If you would like to work with The Universal Design Project or offer feedback on designs in the works, you can go to universaldesign.org.

“We also have a design advisor program, so if you are someone in the community that has life experience with a disability, we have a volunteer program where we send information to you, so you can give feedback on how the designs are going,” Sarah said.

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