enabling design

Environmental Fit and Press

The design of our built environment impacts our level of functioning and well-being.  This can be explained by the theory of environmental fit and press.*

good fit = independence, high functioning

poor fit = press = dependence, dis-abling, reduced functional ability

When there is poor fit between a person and their environment, the environment acts a stressor, pressing down on their abilities, pushing them to an artificially lower level of functioning.  This can be prevented, and often reversed, by design which respects human variations, enabling people to function at their highest level possible.

Therefore, enabling design must be seen as a missing variable in public health.  We know that design has the power to dis-able or enable, so we must examine our standards and practices for housing and community design and change those which promote disability.

Design which enables people to live as independently as possible and reduces environmental press can serve to keep people at home, and reduce costs to society from institutionalization and at-home care.  As personal financial resources decrease, and life-expectancy increases, we must look to environmental features to help keep people functioning and healthy, independent and happy.

Examples of environmental press:

  • poor lighting:  low levels, glare, uneven lighting
  • steps for those who cannot use them due to physical abilities or, more commonly, functional needs (carrying heavy items, pushing a stroller)
  • lack of easily reachable storage for shorter or taller people
  • round doorknobs for persons with smaller hands, reduced strength, shoulder injuries, reduced grasp
  • lack of safe-haven medians in a crosswalk
  • being auto-dependent in your community
The design of our homes and communities are not necessarily benign.  Remember–design has the power to dis-enable or enable.  Let’s choose wisely and enable our society with thoughtful, informed design!

*Lawton, M.P. & Nahemow, L. (1973). An ecological theory of adaptive behavior and aging. In C. Eisdorfer & M.P. Lawton (Eds.), The Psychology of Adult Development and Aging (pp. 657-667). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.