When I was studying interior design I was fascinated by universal design. While I don’t trust Wikipedia for everything, their definition nails it:
Universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products, and environments that are inherently accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities.
I think universal design is brilliant. Well-done universal design functions well for everyone, and in many cases it’s accessible to everyone without looking institutional. Examples of this inside the home would be showers that look like any other high-end bathroom but can accommodate a wheelchair, or grab bars that match the home’s decor. We can carry these same ideas to the outside.
Keeping paths as level or as gently inclined as possible is one way of making them accessible to as many people as possible. The Americans with Disabilities Act has some good guidelines for this sort of thing, as it’s based on lots of research into what people can comfortably navigate. We can also make these surfaces ADA compliant, allowing wheelchairs to easily roll across them. Asphalt is good, gravel is bad. But what if asphalt isn’t the look we want?
There are products out there that can bind gravel to keep it looking natural while still allowing wheelchairs to use the path. Two of these are Gravel-Lok and Klingstone Path. If you’re here in Virginia, you can go to James Madison’s Montpelier (in Orange County) to see what Klingstone Paths look like in person. It’s pretty exciting.
For most other design considerations, universal design outside has many of the same considerations as the inside. Outdoor kitchens can be made usable for anyone, and lighting design becomes even more important for safety and wayfinding at night. If you’re looking to age in place, or you know someone who is, give me a call. I’d be happy to talk with you about design steps we can take to keep the outdoors accessible for years to come.