Other Sensory Characteristics

We often will experience a general and gradual decline in other senses as we age. We may have a change in our ability to taste, including a decline in the recognition of sweet, sour, and salty foods, and a common complaint relates to a bitter taste in the mouth or food tasting bland. Many of us experience a decline in olfactory capacity, which affects our ability to recognize such odors as smoke and leaking gas. This decrease in our ability to smell what’s cooking also directly affects our taste, negatively impacting our appetite. Our sensitivity to touch may decline as well; more spe­cifically we may not feel the pain of a bump or burn as quickly, so our ability to recognize contact with something too hot or sharp is decreased. Add to this our slowing response time and there are definitely design decisions that will help us to function more safely and comfortably. Consider that we move more slowly, recover more slowly from changes in light levels or temperature in a space or in the water we are using and you’ll begin to recognize appropriate design responses.

For a person with tactile or olfactory impairments, pay attention to design concepts such as rounded edges, temperature control that maintains a steady temperature, supplemental heat in the tub/shower area, anti-scald controls, and covered heating pipes or elements to prevent burn­ing. These and other design considerations are detailed in the sections that follow.

Some key examples of the universal design principles in chapter 4, "Universal Design and Human Factors," that become more critical when responding to a client with sensory issues include:

• Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion

• Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings

• Use multiple modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile, auditory) for redundant presentation of essential information

• Provide warnings of hazards and errors

• Provide a clear line of sight to important elements

• Maintain clear and well-lighted traffic and work areas