Re: Including disabled people in cohousing, especially forming communities
From: Dick Margulis (
Date: Sat, 28 Oct 2017 05:08:14 -0700 (PDT)
On 10/27/2017 7:38 PM, S. Kashdan wrote:
1. It is important to have the common dining room and other meeting rooms
designed with the best available sound dampening ceiling and walls, so it is
a space where people can hear each other easily.
This is important for both meals and for large community meetings, such as
community business meetings.

Sound dampening is particularly important if you have members with hearing
loss, and even if you don't currently have any, remember that members may
experience hearing loss as they age, and sound dampening may be really
welcomed by all as children grow and get louder during meals.

Sound dampening solutions that are put in later, after the project is
completed, are more expensive and less effective. So, it is much better to
get the sound dampening done when building the project.

A contrary point of view: It is important to avoid a dead room too. That is, sound dampening is a great goal, but you want to avoid total sound deadening, which feels unnatural to everyone.

We looked into this with our architect and our builder and learned that there's a certain amount of guesswork involved when you're looking at plans. If you have an essentially unlimited budget, you can build in tunable surfaces—the way they do in expensive public performance spaces like opera houses and concert halls—that can be adjusted after the fact. But that's not our situation. It turns out, though, that one of our members is acquainted with a professor at UConn who teaches acoustic engineering. What he proposed was that after our common house is built, he would assign it as a class project. (He does this with one space every year anyway.) So we'll have students scurrying around measuring sound levels in a sophisticated way and then designing and installing mitigating features on a rational basis after the room is built rather than guessing in advance. We'll pay for the materials, and we may have to contribute some labor. But compared to just slapping acoustic material everywhere in advance, it should be much less expensive and more effective. I don't know that every community can find such a local resource, but there might be elements of this scenario folks can adapt to their own situations.

2. It is also important to plan for sound dampening between adjacent
apartments and between floors. This is also much easier and cost effective
during building than later.

Completely agree. We had the professor review our architect's designs for the demising walls, and he suggested a couple of tweaks. He also looked at the wall separating our woodworking shop from the rest of the common house, to verify the architect had done the right thing there. We're confident that these walls will be effective sound barriers.
3. All spaces should be designed with good adequate lighting. This is
especially important for people with vision challenges, which many older
adults develop, and some people have when younger.

Emphasis on adequate, to be sure. But aim for 2700° color (warm white). Hotter (bluer) whites have been shown to have a deleterious effect on sleep patterns.

Related: We have a cell tower as an immediate neighbor. We have great reception. But we also have a flashing strobe at the top of the tower that is going to be visible throughout the community. We've learned, though, that the old-fashioned steady red light you see when you're driving around is still perfectly legal, and we'll be asking the tower owner to replace the strobe with one of those before we complete construction. I'm not sure we can force them to be good neighbors, but we'll give it a shot.

4. Make sure all stairs have secure hand-rails, not loose or wobbly. Also
avoid hand-rails that have spaces big enough for children or adults to
accidently fall through. Hand rails that have open designs may look
attractive but can be hazzardous, especially for young children and older

In most jurisdictions, the building code should cover both of those concerns.

5. Stairs should also have at least a touch of contrasting color to make
them easier to see.
You can get hand-rails with contrasting colors to make them more visible.
  This can help avoid accidental falls.

6. Avoid using loose rugs or carpets in common areas, as they are especially
dangerous for people with balance problems and can lead to falls.

7. Set an expectation that carpets on stairs  that are worn or loose will be
immediately replaced to minimize falls.

8. Encourage everyone to keep both indoor and outdoor walkways in common
areas free of clutter to minimize the danger of tripping and falling.
All excellent. The contrast factor is not something I've seen before, but it makes perfect sense. Along the same lines, I encountered carpeting in a hotel that made accidental falls on the stairs almost inevitable. It consisted of strongly contrasted horizontal stripes of random widths that made stair edges almost impossible to detect. When you're picking out carpeting for stairs, think about any potential optical illusion.

9. Make sure that all bathrooms are built with grip-rails near the toilet,
and in the tub or shower, for older adults and others with balance problems
to use these facilities with safety and confidence.

We specified that the blocking has to be in the bathroom walls to accommodate grab bars, but we're leaving it up to individuals whether to install them during initial construction. They can always be added later.

Dick Margulis
Rocky Corner cohousing
Bethany CT

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