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Barrier-free design and the remodeling market—golden opportunities

by Leon A. Frechette

An architect I know describes barrier-free design as an "architecture which does not inhibit access or use by all people." In simple terms, it can be defined as the elimination of obstacles that would restrict freedom of movement throughout the home. When "freedom" is no longer a luxury because of age, disability, or even confinement to a wheelchair, we need to consider options to make it comfortable for us in everyday living. The time may come when we will face these challenges.

As construction professionals, do we understand the challenges of barrier-free design that will be thrust upon us, either by the customer or by building codes? Customers will be able to accomplish simple modifications on their own, such as changing faucets and door handles to loop or single-lever handles or replacing cabinet hardware to "D" pulls. But what about a full barrier-free design for a kitchen or bathroom or renovation of an entire home? The customer will turn to construction professionals for their expertise—are you prepared?

Why market barrier-free design capabilities? The challenge of living at home while restricted to a wheelchair or walker is faced every day by millions of Americans. The number is rapidly increasing due to two major reasons: the growing number of disabled people choosing to be self-sufficient and the aging of the "baby boom" generation. According to the AARP, one in four Americans will be age 65 or older by the year 2040.

Barrier-free design is one way to make these peoples' lives easier, more convenient, and more pleasant. Whether it's a child in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis or an older adult with arthritic joints, the disabled have a variety of special needs that barrier-free construction design can meet.

Contractors who are knowledgeable and prepared to market barrier-free design services will find growing opportunities, both in commercial and residential markets.

Unfortunately, many contractors are not taking advantage of the opportunity presented by this specialized market. When I spoke with remodeling firms in my own state, the majority said the barrier-free market isn't large enough to justify either showroom space or advertising dollars. Obviously these contractors are not aware that nearly 15 million homes in the United States currently are owned and occupied by people over 65.

Whether it's simple modifications, remodeling, or even building new additions, many homes will need some kind of barrier-free design work in the future, particularly in the kitchens, bathrooms, and entranceways. It is important for construction professionals to consult with local building departments to ensure that their plans and ideas comply with the applicable building codes.

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Barrier-free is here to stay. Increase your knowledge, skills, and confidence by learning all you can about the subject. One way is to order Accessible Housing; click on puchase button to the left!

Copyright © 1995 & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved. The previous article,
in whole or in part, appeared in the Winter 1995 issue of Servistar's Successful Contractor.

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