04/17/2013 06:45 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2013

What We Can Learn About Aging in Place from Jurassic Park

So easy even a dinosaur can do it! My book Staying Power: Age-Proof Your Home for Comfort, Safety and Style explains the concept of Universal Design, a wonderfully helpful approach to our "built environment" that makes things more accessible, functional and supportive. This design approach is called universal because what's good for a person with a disability -- and people getting older do start to dabble in disabilities -- tends to be good for everyone. When you see it in action and experience a difference in getting stuff done, you tend to think, Why isn't everything like this?

Universal Design isn't nearly as universal as it ought to be, but it pops up in the most surprising places.

Take popcorn movies. Universal Design was pleasingly demonstrated in the film Jurassic Park (which, as it happens, came from Universal Studios). This occurred to me when my little nuclear family recently watched the 1993 Spielberg-directed horror film.

Here's how it goes down in the movie.

Near the end, the intrepid archaeologists who unleashed the prehistoric monsters slam a steel door shut to barricade themselves from the predations of a ravenous, rampaging dinosaur. Whew! They're safe! They can relax! They say things like, "It can't get us now!" and "Dinosaurs don't know how to open doors!"

Well, good heavens. Oh no. Any time someone in a movie says, "We're safe!" you know what that means. But hold your suspense for a bit. We need to point something out.

As it turns out, the Jurassic theme park was beautifully designed with no detail overlooked (except for that stupidly non-redundant computer system and those off-site circuit breakers in a ramshackle storage shed). Jurassic Park was meant to offer all of its guests, of any level of ability, a delightful and memorable stay. In fact, you might say it was universally designed.

And because it was designed for accessibility, its door handles were long levers. Yep, lever door handles, of the type recommended by design experts and people like me. Those doors had long, lovely user-friendly handles... easily manipulated by creatures lacking strength or (in this case) fine motor skills. Creatures such as hungry Velociraptors.

So, guess what happens.

Sure enough, Dino nudges the lever with its snorting, fire-breathing snout, opens the door, people scream, mayhem ensues.

Ah, but that's Universal Design for you experts in accessibility and folks who want to age at home. In fact, that's Universal Design at its best... lowering environmental barriers for grateful dinosaurs everywhere. Looks like we can check it out in 3-D now, too.

And what of those hapless humans in Jurassic Park? Show them no mercy, said my teen-aged daughter, well-schooled in mommy's favorite aging-in-place design issues.

"They should have used knobs."