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Accessible Design Evolves to Become User-Friendly, Safe and Beautiful

On August 31, 2020

Accessible design has evolved to become user-friendly, safe and beautiful. For Julia Dorsett, looking at properties for sale is a fun hobby. When she saw an 18th-century stone farmhouse listed in Chester County, she instantly fell in love with the 3½-acre wooded property. The home, situated on a hill, has large picturesque windows with stunning views of a big rolling lawn.

Though she initially couldn’t imagine a three-story farmhouse giving her the accessibility needed to accommodate her wheelchair, she brought in an architect with the hope that she could install an elevator. she installed an elevator, turned the dining room into the kitchen to create more space to maneuver her wheelchair, added a balcony outside her bedroom, and installed a roll-in shower.

“I put motion lights on every floor, so every time I come out of the elevator, no matter what time of day, the lights come on,” said Dorsett, who shares her home with two dogs and two cats. She also moved light switches lower and outlets higher, something she thinks makes sense in all homes.

Thirty years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, an abundance of attractive, convenient design features are finding their way into many homes, even when the homeowner doesn’t have an existing disability. For some, it’s a desire to age in place, while for others, it’s an appreciation for new designs that are stylish, affordable, and accessible to all.

“The ADA does not apply at all to residential housing,” said Nancy Horton, information specialist for the Mid-Atlantic Americans with Disabilities Act Center, based in Rockville, Md. Guidelines for individual homes come from the Fair Housing Act. But, she said, the ADA has brought a greater awareness to accessibility and inspired many conveniences and attractive designs.

“Fifty years ago, accessibility had an institutional look,” she said. “But that’s not the case any longer. It’s a combination of being more user-friendly and safer.”

Read more about how Julia Dorsett transformed this farmhouse into the home of her dreams at the The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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