Your Adaptive Home

Have you ever taken a good look at the light switches, electrical outlets, counters, furniture, and appliances in your house and wondered how they came to appear like they do? Probably not; most people take those things for granted. For now, though, I’d like to turn your attention to common household items and discuss their adaptive properties.

Let’s start with the light switches in your house. Every room has at least one. The switch sits at an optimal level for bent arms and outstretched hands to turn light fixtures and ceiling fans on and off. Standard measurements can be thanked for their location; the highest height of light switches is standardized by code to be placed between 48″-52″ from the ground, to coincide with people’s arm movements.

Next, check out the electrical wall outlets. In most rooms, they are located a standard distance of 12″-16″ from the top of the outlet to the floor. That level is cheap jerseys perfectly suited to provide electricity for floor appliances (e.g., vacuum cleaners) and to plug in cords of electrified items that sit on desks and tables (e.g., lamps, computers). The outlets’ low placement also ensures that some will be hidden by furniture, which shields unseemly cords from view. Finally, because they are set well below eye level, outlets on open walls do not distract people from viewing pictures or wall decorations that are placed at a higher level. In kitchens and bathrooms, the tops of wall outlets are situated 10″-12″ above counters and vanities, enabling easy electrical access for small appliances (e.g., blenders, coffee makers, electric razors and toothbrushes, night lights, hair dryers).

Door knobs and handles are situated 38″ from the ground, which coincides with most people’s optimal grip position. They are affixed to doors that are 78″-80″ in height, which enables even the tallest person to enter or leave without needing to stoop. A standard door’s width is either 24″, 30″, or 36″. Decorative window panes are usually transparent enough to enable light to enter but opaque enough to prohibit outsiders from seeing in. Peepholes on doors have traditionally conformed to adult males’ eye level; however, the American Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates lowering them in applicable settings (e.g., hotel rooms) for wheelchair users.

Furniture also generally conforms to standard measurements. Desks vary from 48″-60″ in width, with a depth of 30″ and height at 29″-30.5″. Desk chairs are wholesale jerseys usually 20″-22” wide, and computer chairs are 18” wide; both typically have a standard height of 36”. Living room seats (i.e., sofa, loveseat, chair) share a depth of 35″, but vary in width (typically, 35″ for an armchair, 60″ for a loveseat, and 84” for a sofa). Rectangle the coffee tables are typically 30” wide and 48″ long. Square and rectangular end tables are both 24″ in width, but vary in length (24″ and 28″, respectively).

Most dining tables are 28″-30″ in height; however, they vary in standardized lengths and widths, according to shape. Dining room chairs are 18″ in depth and vary from 18″ to 22″ in width, depending on whether they’re side chairs or arm chairs. Bed frames and mattresses also vary along standardized lines, in a familiar range of sizes: crib, twin, queen, full, or king. In bedroom sets, the dimensions of accompanying dressers and night stands are modified in relative size to complement the bed’s width and length.

Washers, dryers, refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, and built-in microwaves adhere to a different set of standard measurements that includes volume. Standards for newer appliances have changed over the years in response to updated energy ratings, new quality specifications, and shifting consumers’ demands.

Can you imagine what life would be like without standard measurements? Every accessory would have to be customized! More important, imagine all of the adaptations that people would need to make if any of the above items were positioned or sized in random ways. Clearly, standard measurements of residential features and appliances have been created for optimal access and use.

The ADA has mandated changes in standard measurements for new construction and building upgrades. For instance, modifications in the standard height of kitchen counters and bathroom vanities in homes and buildings (traditionally, 36″ and 32-43″, respectively) enable access by wheelchair users and customization by people of varying heights. Similarly, standard measurements not for hallways, foyers, and open areas have been widened to accommodate wheelchairs and other adaptive equipment.

How are standard measurements for household appliances, furniture, and built-ins created? The answer rests in large data files of pertinent body measurements on thousands of men and women that were aggregated and then averaged into numerical means. According to the most recent compilation of data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics (2007-2010), men have an average height of 69.3 inches, an average weight of 195.5 pounds, and an average waist circumference of 39.7 inches. Women have an average height of 63.8 inches, an average weight of 166.2 pounds, and an average waist circumference of 37.5 inches. Those numbers have provided the foundation for the most recent standardized dimensions, with modifications for accessibility.

This is all well and good wholesale jerseys China for people with average-sized bodies, but most of us vary in at least one dimension, with height being the WCQs most obvious. Tall people gradually adjust to sensations of being cramped in furniture that is too small for their frames, while short people learn to shift their bodies in furniture that is too high or wide for them. Whenever personal adaptive skills are insufficient to handle the disparities between standard measures and individual differences, external adaptive devices come into play to close the gap. Ladders, step ladders, step stools, grabbers, fire starters, thick books, flashlights, potholders, shower mats, and bathtub hand grippers are among an unlimited supply of common adaptive products that enable people to do things that would otherwise be impossible. With sufficient creativity, most household items can be transformed into adaptive supports; all you need is a mind that can visualize new or unique uses for everyday things.

I have had to adapt to standard measurements for my entire adult life. At 5’0″, I am at least 3 inches shorter than the average American woman. During my younger years, oversized furniture and cabinets that extended to ceilings routinely required adaptive solutions (posture shifts and step ladders, respectively). More recently, significant improvements in quality and efficiency for many appliances have led to new standard measures in size and volume that have rendered them even more difficult for me to use.

Last summer, for instance, my 6’0″ husband purchased a new washing machine to replace our failing old one. As he compared models, he had no need to consider the adaptive consequences of cheap jerseys tubs that are now deeper than our old machine’s tub and agitators that are no longer needed (I had regularly used the agitator as an adaptive device to reposition clean clothes that were difficult to reach). At home, the new machine enabled him to launder clothes with ease.  On my first experience, I was able to complete the process of washing clothes. However, when it was time to transfer the clean wet clothes from washer to dryer, I discovered that my arms were several inches too short to reach the clothes at the bottom of the tub. Stretching my body and limbs as far as I could gave me a couple inches, but it was not enough. Our step ladder was also useless, as it did not allow me to position my body for appropriate reach. I was stymied on what to do next, until I remembered the grabber that we had acquired from my mother-in-law’s house after she died. I retrieved it from the closet where it had spent the last 10 years, squeezed the gripper handle, and thrust it into the machine to grasp wet clothes. Voila! The grabber now resides in a corner of the laundry room.

If our house had lacked a grabber, then I would have probably used a few other items with length (e.g., broom handle, barbecue fork) to grab the clothes. If those didn’t work, I would have likely given up and asked my husband to do it for me, but not before experiencing exasperated feelings of helplessness and defeat.

As you walk around your own residence, I hope that you’ll notice all the household items and furnishings that have been strategically placed for your benefit. You might also take note of features on furnishings or appliances that just don’t seem to make sense. If you find something that is either exceptionally adaptive or particularly awkward, consider sending a quick email about it to the manufacturer. Feedback drives improvements, and your perspectives could make a difference.

I’d enjoy hearing about your experiences with household adaptations. Comments are always welcome!

2 thoughts on “Your Adaptive Home”

  1. I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall, and I’ve encountered something aggravating here in Switzerland in the hot season.
    Garden tables and chairs are put out in restaurants to maximize visitors traffic.
    Now, the tables are ok, but the chairs! They all seem to be of a “lounging” type with a hanging depress in the middle, where you have to sit. Consequently, people with only a slightly shorter torso like myself are sitting there like schoolchildren, craning upwards.

    It gets maddening when you order an ice-cream coupe and literally have to take it off the table to eat it.

    In my favorite bistro here in Langenthal, CH, they know me well! I’m the one who always comes in, removes an extra chair from inside and takes it out…..

    Love your work on raising awareness about these daily life glitches and educating about solutions…..


    1. You are so right about the chairs, Therese! I am so used to making adjustments that most of the time I don’t even notice it. Never thought of it as an issue until I started looking around for ideas for the site. Thanks for you comment and support!

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