BRINGING UNIVERSAL DESIGN IDEAS TO THE PUBLIC:
INTERACTIVE EXHIBITS IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Overton, J. and Pynoos, J. (1999).
in Maximizing Human Potential, Winter (1999)


While many agree that home modification is key to supporting aging in place, evidence suggests that home modifications are present in only a small number of homes. Experts have estimated that more than one million older persons with health and mobility problems need additional supportive features in their homes to age in place. Most consumers simply don't understand what is meant by "home modifications" and if they do, they do not know how to go about making changes to their home or selecting products. Two exciting projects in Southern California addressed these problems in a very creative, grass roots project.

"Beyond Time, Beyond Space: A Home for All Ages," two interactive home modification exhibits, were organized by the USC Andrus Gerontology Center's Home Modification Action Project (Home Mods.) with the Pasadena Home Modification Coalition and the Santa Clarita Home Modification Coalition. Home modification is multidisciplinary, involving aging, disability, rehabilitation and housing networks. However, most "task forces" or groups focus on one or the other without bringing in professionals and discussions from all sides. The coalitions represent the many groups that can make a difference in the availability of home modification: the building/housing industry; rehabilitation professionals; social service, aging, advocacy and disability agencies; the public sector; the voluntary sector; and consumers. They organize and plan specific educational activities targeted to several groups: consumers, service delivery professionals, the corporate sector, and public decision makers.

While a need for increased home modification was identified as a goal by both coalition communities, there was a lack of momentum and interest by professionals and consumers. In order to convey the importance of home modification, it was thought that individuals must see, touch, and feel examples. With Home Mods., the coalitions devised a plan to create home modification exhibits in easily accessible community focal points. The purpose was to demonstrate to consumers and professionals the effectiveness of universal design and home modifications in ensuring a safe, comfortable, convenient and accessible dwelling. Both exhibits were located in donated retail spaces in upscale shopping areas. The representation of aging, disability and rehabilitation perspectives on the coalition ensured that the exhibit addressed diverse needs and interests. Approximately 30 vendors locally and nationally donated the home modification and universally designed products and materials.

Each exhibit was open to the public for free for two months. The exhibits were visited by almost 5000 individuals. People of all ages were welcomed in to view innovative home modification products as an unexpected part of their trip to shopping or the movies. Young children rode the stair glide, baby boomers took notes for remodeling their kitchens, and older individuals appreciate the simple assistive devices that can make their daily living much easier. More than 20 groups held their monthly meetings at the exhibit site (e.g., American Institute of Architects, Christmas in April) and workshops were conducted for social service and housing professionals. For example, the Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services held a meeting of lenders at the exhibit site which focused on financing home modification and universal design.More than 20 groups held their monthly meetings at the exhibit site (e.g., American Institute of Architects, Christmas in April) and workshops were conducted for social service and housing professionals. For example, the Pasadena Neighborhood Housing Services held a meeting of lenders at the exhibit site which focused on financing home modification and universal design.

Highlights of the exhibition included: 1) The GE New Home Essentials Living Center: a fully equipped universally designed kitchen with all ages and needs in mind; 2) Home Modification Products: Actual products and equipment -- including portable ramps, bathroom fixtures, roll-in showers, grab bars, assistive devices, etc. -- from local and national vendors; 3) Local home modification efforts. Photos of local homes successfully modified by local professionals and programs; 4) A Home Resource Center. Extensive materials about local and national home modification resources (programs, products, professionals, etc.) available to all visitors, including free brochures, checklists and consumer manuals; 5) Videos. Videos that feature home modifications were continually played at the site.

While the exhibits have closed, the impact they had on the communities continues. The coalitions have gained momentum and are now aggressively pursuing other activities to increase home modification availability and awareness in the community. Secondly, coalition members who were not working together prior to the exhibit are now exchanging ideas and strategies for their own work. In addition, the exhibit helped groups establish relationships with home modification product vendors and an understanding of how altering the home environment can help resolve clients' problems. In evaluations, over 80% of the visitors indicated that the exhibit had increased their knowledge of home modification "a great deal" and nearly 50% indicated that they would be making a change to their home or someone they know as a result of visiting the exhibit.


Home Mods. is funded by the Archstone Foundation and headquartered at the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center. For more information, visit Home Mods.'s web site at http://www.homemods.org or email at homemods@usc.edu.

Julie Overton is the Program Manager for the National Resource Center on Home Modification and the Home Modification Action Project, both at the USC Andrus Gerontology Center. Jon Pynoos, Ph.D. is a Professor of Gerontology and Urban Planning and the Director of the National Resource Center on Home Modification at the USC Andrus Gerontology Center,

Mailing Address:
USC Andrus Gerontology Cneter
3715 McClintock Avenue
Los Angelees, CA 90089-0191
OvertonJ@aol.com, JPynoos@aol.com
(213) 740-1352; fax (213) 740-7069