Twitter has connected me with some amazing folks. One of them is Gail Zahtz. Gail is a specialist in universal design. As someone working with old, young and both together, I try to select instruments that will work well for all ages. There are many ways all of us can benefit from universal design. I asked Gail to share her thoughts on intergenerational fun by design.  

You have probably come to understand how much joy and fulfillment music can bring to your family. So you have decided to incorporate music therapy into your life, you are committed to sharing this across three generations. You look around your home and aren’t sure if the matriarch of the family can make the stairs, if the children could come to assisted living and play music, how you could store instruments or create space for everyone of all sizes and abilities to make instruments to play?

Through design you can bring the joy of music into your home and have tremendous, proven benefits daily for anyone in your home!

Imagine this:


Anyone call use a wheelchair, walker and/or stroller to get into this magical playhouse and enjoy wonderful time together.  Yet, this was not designed to be “accessible” it was just beautiful design in the home.

Universal design was original coined by R.L. Mace over 25 years ago in his co-authored book The Universal Design File:  Designing for People of All Ages and Abilities.  While it has moved off the original intent of beautiful and functional design for everyone and is often but into the wheelchair accessible silo, it does not have to be this way.  The way you design your home can dramatically improve your life

Other terms have come up including “visitability” (can anyone share time with you in your home?) or Aging In Place (a term I like least – though it is used to speak to the 10,000 Baby Boomers who turn 65 daily to reach over 70 million in the next 8 years who want and need to stay in their home.)

Often separated, though in my opinion absolutely integral to universal design is Sensory Design For More Information and Lists to Incorporate Sensory Design see The Sensory Trust. Sensory design has shown wonderful outcomes in helping all ages (and includes using music of course) including:  reducing pain, helping cognition and memory, treatment for diagnosis of many ages including Autism, Alzheimer’s, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder and virtually anyone for stress reduction.

Integrating sensory design into your home and bringing music, light, touch into your home does not have to be expensive.  Here is an easy start of a couple hundred pictures, links and ideas I have been collecting.  One way is to combine a craft project with the family and make a moveable board or attach to a permanent wall music light and touch like this:

music wall

Sensory Gardens provide beautiful ways to bring music and other sounds, touch, smell and a wonderful intergenerational activity into the home.  Accessible Gardens for All is a wonderful site to begin learning about creating accessible sensory gardens for your home.  I have been collecting other links, pictures and ideas.

Caregiving and integrating intergenerational lifestyles can be incredibly stressful.  With 3 in 10 caregivers living with the person they care for, 69% of caregivers say it is the biggest stress in their life via “ The Cost of Caregiving “.

So with all stress that cannot be avoided, look at how you can reduce stress and energy in your home and increase joy and music.  If you are already doing a re-model, it costs little to put in half wall supports behind the drywall to add a grab bar at a later time-saving possibly thousands of dollars in the future.  If you are trying to make your home easier for multiple generations, look at easy quick and inexpensive fixes to make the home useful for all generations:

  • Good lighting:  keep rooms bright, add night lights into bathrooms, put in under-counter lights where you can.
  • Multi-height surfaces:  for all generations to work or play together in the kitchen, playroom, craftroom or living room – add in counters and work places of different heights.  A terrific in-expensive trick is to get a wheeled table designed over a hospital bed – this will change heights and can be moved anywhere.  We keep one in our kitchen and pull it out to make extra work space convenient anywhere for anyone regardless of height or ability.
  • Put supplies for the “job” in the place where you do that task (even if it means keeping multiples)  Save lots of energy and time by putting cleaning wipes in every bathroom, pencils in any room, spices next to wherever you prepare food, etc.
  • If you are a caregiver, give yourself much deserved relief by adding a desk with comfortable chair in the primary area (often a bedroom) where your loved one spends time.
  • Put moveable seating around the house that can store against walls or under tables so anyone can sit and relax, or it can be moved to make easy access for people with limited mobility.
  • Open floors:  Pick up the area rugs, take inexpensive baskets in each rooms for the kids toys – many baby and children’s toys make great fidgets and sensory devices for people of all ages – and another basket for crochet – now evidence proven sensory device for people of all ages.  Special classrooms are teaching children with various needs to crochet…

Then pull out the crochet basket, and let the grandmother teach the child how to crochet.  Whether making music or making a scarf, sensory integration can not only help reduce ailments – it can create lasting bonds for all the generations!

Gail ZahtzGail Zahtz has been in healthcare communication for the past two decades.  Over the recent years, as a caregiver of 4 children – all special, a few with “special needs”- and a patient of 20 surgeries and 52 hospitalizations she started looking at the spaces around us to make a better home for the entire family.  She found that most literature, pictures, and descriptions of Universal Design were ugly, institutional or otherwise demeaning.  In addition, she learned about the power of sensory rooms (used regularly in assisted living, schools, mental health hospitals, children’s hospitals and more in the United Kingdom) at one of her daughter’s forward- thinking hospitals.  Finding nothing pleasantly available, and combining her years of health background, she became an advocate for creating and integrating universal and sensory design everywhere.  She has a book coming out this May on the subject.

Please connect with Gail!

  • Her website is where you can link to her at facebook, her blog, Pinterest, and most anywhere.
  • You can also find her regularly discussing health , design or daily life on twitter @gailzahtz
  • And now you can participate and learn from the conversation. is just starting – but is building a community on the web and all over for patients, caregivers, healthcare providers and those who don’t yet know they are patients or caregivers, to connect to trusted information, communication and recommended resources – and most importantly each other whether experts or peers.  Join the conversation!


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