How do you persuade seniors to incorporate accessibility features in their home before disability happens? As Iowa State interior design major Ava Yuska found, a “show, don’t tell” approach works well.
Would you prefer to age in place in your own home, or live out your life in a retirement facility?
For 90 percent of Americans, the answer is home. Most defer making the necessary accessibility modifications, though, until it’s too late. An accident or diagnosis lands them in a wheelchair with no way to navigate the still-narrow hallways, step into the walled shower, or reach a shoulder-high light switch in their own homes.
The question is how to persuade seniors to implement accessibility accommodations before disability happens. As an Iowa State interior design major, Ava Yuska found a show, don’t tell approach works well.
Ava and fellow interior design students tackled the problem through a faculty-led project to produce aging-in-place remodeling plans for older Charles City, Iowa, residents. What they learned contributes to the growing field of research into aging in America.
Accommodations for access
The concept of aging in place is unfamiliar to most people. By creating plans for existing homes, Ava and other students were able to introduce and show their clients what it could mean for them.
“Our client-couple were in their 80s,” Ava says. “Their house was cluttered and small. We suggested little differences to reduce their chances of falling, like getting rid of area rugs and rearranging furniture to make a good walking path. We added more lighting and thin, wall-to-wall carpet.”
Ava knew that significant structural modifications to accommodate wheelchair access would be easier to recommend in a plan that also included the clients’ own priorities.
“They wanted to stop cold air from entering the kitchen through the foyer, so we suggested adding a pocket door to save space. We added other things they wanted, too. When we presented our plans to the community afterward, we had great feedback from them. A couple of AARP representatives said our plan was great, and lots of seniors came around to look at our schematics. It was very affirming.”
Interior designer as problem-solver
Ava says her concept of an interior designer has evolved from decorator to problem-solver.
“Like lots of young girls, I was obsessed with HGTV. But the reality of interior design is both technical and social. This was the first time I really worked with a client, and not just an imaginary scenario. It gave me the confidence boost that yes, we really can make a difference in someone’s life. I now know it’s 100 percent for me.”