What in the World is Universal Design?

You may have heard that Baby Boomers, for the most part, have a strong desire to stay in their own homes for as long as possible as they age. Incorporating the features of “Universal Design” into a remodeling project will make this possible, broadening a home’s accessibility, usability and safety for everyone who lives in or visits the home, from small children to aging adults and people with disabilities.

How is Universal Design different from just making accommodations for elderly or disabled homeowners and visitors?

Although assistive features such as ramps and grab bars can be included, Universal Design is much broader than just “wheelchair accessible.” Sometimes Universal Design is called “design for all” or “inclusive design.” With Universal Design, we create spaces that can be used by everyone, no matter what their age or physical abilities. Even younger children benefit from reachable light switches and floors that aren’t slippery. Moreover, we recognize that beauty is as important as function, so the home will not only be aesthetically pleasing, but the Universal Design features can also be practically “invisible” – except for the fact that the home is an especially comfortable and convenient place to live or visit.

universal design age-in-place kitchen

Not everyone needs all the modifications that are available, but you should consider including features that will:

  • Compensate for a reduced range of motion
  • Compensate for reduced strength
  • Improve safety
  • Assist reduced mobility and agility
  • Improve lighting

What are some examples of Universal Design?

The Center for Universal Design has established certain principles of use that are common features in Universal Design, including flexibility, simplicity, comfort, and ease. We can incorporate these into our clients’ homes in ways that both improve livability and enhance beauty.

Accessible bathroom

Some of the features that a home remodeled using Universal Design might have are:

  • Entries and Doorways: at least one no-step entry, wider doorways and halls, interior thresholds no higher than 1/4″, increased lighting
  • Kitchen: lazy susans, pullout shelves, automatic (hands-free) faucets, varying counter heights, wall-mounted ovens
  • Bathroom: lever-style faucet handles, detachable hand-held showerheads, curbless walk-in showers, anti-scald devices on sinks, tubs and showers
  • Bedroom: light switches within easy reach of the bed, adjustable closet rods

Other general features throughout the home may include lever-style door handles; light switches and electrical outlets reachable from a seated position; adequate task lighting and increased lighting on stairways; and flooring materials that are hard, even surfaces or low pile carpeting.

Remember, the whole concept of a “universally” designed home is that it works well for everyone: young or old, able or disabled, and all those in between. If you have any questions about Universal Design or you’d like to know more about how it can improve your home and lifestyle, please contact us and we will help you decide which features might be appropriate for you and your family.