THE HOME FOR ALL AGES: AN INTERACTIVE EXHIBIT TO PROMOTE UNIVERSAL DESIGN
Mary H. Yearns and Lois N. Warme, Iowa State University
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Need and Purpose:
In 1990, most Iowans had not heard of universal design, "... an approach to design that
incorporates products as well as building features and elements, which to the greatest extent
possible, can be used by everyone" (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 1988).
Few were aware that homes could be constructed to accommodate the changing needs of
individuals throughout the life span and still be appealing to a non-disabled audience.
To help Iowans understand the benefits of universal design, Iowa State University Extension (ISUE)
staff constructed "The Home for All Ages." The three-room exhibit features furnishings, equipment,
and assistive devices to promote universal design principles and products.
The exhibit was created for the 1990 Farm Progress Show by two ISUE faculty members: Mary
Yearns, Extension Housing Specialist, and Lois Warme, Extension Specialist in Interior Design. It
has been used at home shows, fairs, and agricultural expos throughout Iowa. The 40-foot long
exhibit has a kitchen, bathroom, and living/sleeping space.
The bathroom includes a lavatory equipped with an electronic eye and a counter with accessible
knee space underneath. Grab bars are placed at convenient locations by the tub and toilet.
Thousands of people have taken a ride on the electronic toilet seat lifter that makes toileting
safer for persons with limited strength and mobility. A stacked washer-dryer unit provides
access to clothing care on the main level of the home.
The kitchen combines standard counter heights and a lowered work area that can accommodate
seated users. The shelves and drawers are stocked with a variety of assistive devices to make
daily tasks easier. The living room includes a daybed, work table, and storage units for
clothing and personal items. A clap-on, clap-off light control and a portable seat lifter for an
armchair are popular attractions.
The exhibit is interactive. People can try out features and gadgets in each room that will
accommodate people with mobility limitations, hearing and vision loss, and low energy. Devices
range from a high tech electronic faucet to inexpensive utensils for food preparation. Fact
sheets provide information about the cost and source of each item and ways to make an existing
home more accessible.
The exhibit is plumbed and wired to be fully operational. Staff and volunteers are trained to
demonstrate the special furnishings and equipment and to explain how these items might be used,
whether building a new home or doing major remodeling.
Yearns and Warme made telephone calls and personal visits to Iowa businesses, suppliers, and
manufacturers to explain the Home for All Ages proposal. They obtained about $35,000 in
furnishings, equipment, and appliances on outright grant or extended loan through these
solicitation efforts. University funds paid for labor and materials to build the basic
Each time the exhibit is used at a major event, a university truck and two-person moving crew
must be paid to transport, set up, and tear down the exhibit. Local groups and organizations
are found to pay moving costs and exhibit fees.
Staff and Volunteer Training:
The exhibit requires a major time commitment. Volunteers are used in all phases of the operation.
Strong backs are required for heavy lifting during set-up and tear-down. Mechanics are needed to
connect plumbing and electricity, hang mirrors and grab bars, and see that appliances are working
properly. A cleaning and maintenance crew is used to wash off dirty fingerprints, touch up chipped
paint, hang blinds, and accessorize the exhibit.
People who enjoy visiting with the public are recruited to demonstrate the features in each room
and encourage participants to handle the assistive devices. They are trained by videos and/or
on-site practice sessions. Volunteers have included AARP members, other retired people, staff
from a variety of health care and social service agencies, and residents of several correctional
A promotional package has been prepared to send to prospective groups and organizations that
wish to have the Home for All Ages in their community. The package includes photos, slides,
video, cost estimates, staffing guidelines, and sample media releases.
The Home for All Ages has helped almost 500,000 people learn about universal design. The
interactive approach is effective: people are more likely to remember and use the new information
when they have a chance to touch and test the gadgets. Even two or three years after an event,
people have called to say that they now need specific information about some of the assistive
devices they saw in the exhibit.
The display increased ISUE visibility on disability issues and helped attract funding for an Iowa
AgrAbility project. ISUE and the Easter Seal Society of Iowa have jointly received almost
$700,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help farm families affected by disabilities
remain on their farms and in their homes.
Building and maintaining the exhibit is an expensive and time-consuming operation. The cost of
furnishing the home was reduced by soliciting products and equipment from local businesses.
Storing the display is expensive, as is transporting it to various exhibit sites around the
state. The massive size limits the settings in which the display can be used. The set-up and
tear-down of the display require many hours of labor by staff and volunteers. Two smaller
bathroom displays have now been constructed with AgrAbility grant funds to use at one-day
A similar exhibit could be built in another state by soliciting items from local businesses that
sell universal design products and equipment. Institutional support, interagency assistance, or
grant funds would be needed to provide ongoing support to store, transport, and maintain the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. (1988). Universal design--housing for the
lifespan of all people (August, HUD-1156-PA). Washington, DC: Author.
A Home for All Ages: Convenient, comfortable and attractive.
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regarding race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age, and disability.