Design That Embraces Everyone, Always
As the March issue went to press, the team behind Healthcare Design and Environments for Aging was simultaneously preparing for the EFA Expo & Conference in Las Vegas (Feb. 26-March 1). As such, the senior population has been on my mind a lot lately—as it should be for everyone who works in designing public spaces.
We talk about the statistics surrounding the aging baby boomer population a lot, so I won’t go into them again here. But indulge me in reminding you that as the segment of senior Americans grows significantly over the next decade, the concept of “environments for aging” will expand well beyond independent and assisted living communities and nursing homes. Every environment needs to be a senior environment, including retail stores, government buildings and corporate offices, and cities and towns.
Of course that means healthcare facilities, too. The older the patient, the more likely she is to have one or more impairments that need accommodation. Now combine that with the proliferation of ambulatory care facilities, which is likely to translate into hospitals largely handling only the highest-acuity cases. You know what group needs the most acute care? Right. Seniors.
But the challenge for all designers is how to meet the needs of this group in a way that still welcomes and embraces people of all ages and abilities. The concept of universal design is a promising start: Championed by architects, product designers, engineers, and environmental design researchers, its goal is design that can be used by “all people, to the greatest extent possible, without adaptation or specialized design,” according to the Center for Universal Design at NC State University in Raleigh, N.C. The point is seamlessness throughout a space rather than a few alternative options here and there.
For healthcare, it means going beyond ADA and building codes and looking at every area from the parking lot through the lobby and all the way through discharge for ways to accommodate (and comfort, and delight) anyone. We’re already on a roll with the inclusion of more natural light—one common universal design principle—wherever we can get it. But wider doorways, no thresholds, clear entries, acoustical controls, and thoughtful furniture and fixture choices can be incorporated much more broadly, whether it’s a massive hospital campus or a small eye care clinic.
Architects and product designers alike have a real opportunity to get creative as they learn to look at every space through the eyes of multiple users, and I’d love to hear more about what you may have in the works already. For other insight and ideas regarding universal design and healthcare, check out The Center for Health Design’s recent brief on the topic (go to Healthdesign.org and search “universal design”), as well as our article in the November 2016 issue’s Monitor section on the Mary Free Bed YMCA, a universally designed hospital, YMCA, and wellness center project.