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Iowa State University Extension

Have trailer, will demonstrate universal design

trailer and portable universal design display

Give Mary Yearns a trailer and she’ll figure out a way to demonstrate how universal design makes a home more useful and accessible. From setting up portable display trailers with kitchen and bathroom exhibits to designing a three-room “Home for All Ages,” this ISU Extension specialist has spent her 35-year career at ISU focused on the housing needs of an aging population and people with disabilities. Chances are you’ve seen at least one of these exhibits: Yearns has demonstrated them at home shows, fairs, and conferences across the United States.

Countertops can be adjusted, tables and chairs are on wheels, and showerheads and grab bars move up and down. Just about anything can slide, turn or shift into an accessible position depending on the user’s physical abilities.

During the past five years, Yearns also has led a major research project to design Kwik-change Kabinets.

“All you need is a screwdriver and these cabinets can be changed from standard units to accessible units for wheelchair users and back again to standard,” Yearns said. The cabinets have been installed in an assisted living project to test whether they can solve accessibility problems for senior housing providers as residents with differing needs and abilities move in and out. The research is funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging and the Iowa Finance Authority, in collaboration with Bertch Cabinet Manufacturing.

The National Institute of Senior Housing (NISH) and National Council on Aging recently honored Yearns for her work. In March she received their Sid Spector Memorial Award in appreciation for exemplary and long-standing service to the field of senior housing. She is immediate past-chair of the NISH delegate council and is a past-president of the American Association of Housing Educators.

This article appeared in April 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter