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Universal design gifts improve ease of use for people of all ability levels

"This year, consider buying universal design products for family and friends,” says University of Missouri Extension Housing and Environmental Design Specialist Marsha Alexander. These are products designed to assist people who may have difficulty with hearing, memory, mobility, vision and more. Based on a nationally accepted standard of seven design principles established by a group of product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, these products accommodate a wide range of abilities and continue to meet the needs of people as their abilities change. “They are intended to benefit everyone, not just the elderly or physically challenged,” says Alexander. “These products and designs are comfortable to use, convenient and safe. They are not just for people with disabilities.”

Often people think it will cost thousands of dollars to retrofit an existing home to be more usable for someone who has physical challenges. Yes, redesigning entrances to provide an alternative to steps and widening doorways is costly. However, it is not expensive to replace door knobs with lever door handles making accessibility much easier. This change will provide a grandparent with arthritis or a busy homemaker with an armful of laundry a much easier option. Single-lever controls compared to dual controls on kitchen and lavatory faucets provide easier usage and make adjustment of water temperature and output simple for everyone.

Compare products you are considering for safe and easy use. For example, if you were buying a rain gauge, look for one that is large with large print. A more traditionally designed gauge will be small with small print that is harder to read at a distance. A universal designed calculator will have large buttons making it easier to enter numbers accurately. It will also have a high contrast and large display so that it is easy to read. By comparison the more traditionally designed calculator will have small buttons and a low contrast and small display making numbers difficult to see.

Kitchen tools are often popular stocking stuffers. Consider the ease of use for these products. For example, a standard vegetable peeler is often a small, metal-handle tool that can be slippery and uncomfortable to grip. A universal design peeler will have a cushioned handle that is comfortable to grip. A standard measuring cup will often have small lettering making it difficult to read. A universal designed measuring cup will be easy to read and you can see accurate measurements when the cup is sitting on the counter.

Buying universal designed products will make simple tasks easier for those who receive your gifts. Products and designs that allow for long-term use are also smart investments.


For more information on universal design products, contact your local University of Missouri Extension Center at (816) 482-5850 or visit the web site at


Source: Marsha Alexander, Housing and Environmental Design Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,



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Last update: Monday, December 07, 2009