Universal Design for Home Accessibility

Posted by Jamie Kline on Mar 29, 2019 4:28:48 PM
Jamie Kline


Unfortunately, it seems as though “accessible home” has become a buzzword in the home building community with many  misconceptions surrounding the true meaning of universal design and home accessibility.

To some, accessible home design simply means adding a wheelchair ramp. While this is one facet of universal, accessible design -- there is so much more to uncover. When we fail to account for other facets of accessible building when discussing the concept, we leave out many people who can benefit from universal design.

We aim to get to the heart of home accessibility, what it means, who benefits from it, and how to build it in this article.

What Does Accessible Or Universal Home Design Mean?

Universal design is a philosophy that something should be designed in a way that everybody can use it in the same way regardless of physical ability.

Homes designed around this philosophy adhere to these 7 concepts:

  1. Useable regardless of ability. Whether someone in the home is able bodied, disabled, elderly, or a child -- everyone can use the features of the home in a similar fashion.

  2. Flexibility. Spaces within the home have multiple uses or can be reconfigured for different activities or abilities.

  3. Simplicity. Everything in the home is easy to use, and where you expect them to be. This is especially relevant for light switches in both placement and usability.

  4. Perceptible information. The functionality of everything in the home is easily understood at a glance. For example, faucets have clearly labeled “hot” and “cold” directions.

  5. Minimized potential for hazard. All potential opportunities for slips, trips, falls, and any other physical risk are removed from the home. Think: carpet on hardwood staircases.

  6. Low physical effort required for living. Accessible homes do not feature heavy, sticky windows and doors or high steps to get in and out of the shower. Elements of the home should be effortless for all residents to interface with.

  7. Size and space for users. No matter what, the home provides ample space to move and operate all of the features in the home. This includes wheelchair or other mobility device accessibility.

One of the common misconceptions of accessible design is that it is only worth thinking about for people with physical disabilities and movement impairments. The truth is, we are all temporarily able bodied.

The whole purpose of universal design is that it fits everyone, at every stage of life, regardless of ability. It’s always smart to invest in universal design to be inclusive of everyone in your life presently, and in the future.

6 Common Universal Design Features in Homes

If you’re downsizing and looking to build a home to adhere to universal design and accessibility for the rest of your life, here are some features you might want to look into:

1. “0” Entry Doors, Showers, and Outdoor Spaces

This is generally thought of as a wheelchair accessible feature, and rightfully so! It allows those with mobility aids to freely enter and exit spaces without any hindrance.
However, this feature can also be important for those who have small children around, since even the smallest entryway lip can be a hazard for a trip and fall.

Outdoor spaces, like decks and patios, are often forgotten when addressing accessibility. Ensure all surfaces are smooth, and you’ll be in adherence to universal design and accessible for all.

2. 3’ Wide Doors & 42” Wide Hallways

This is the minimum width to ensure ease of movement for anyone utilizing mobility aids.

When furnishing your home with desks, tables, and vanities -- ensure they are at least 30” wide, 19” deep, and 27” high (in general) to allow comfortable use for all.

3. Bright Lighting in All Areas of the House

While “mood lighting” can be cozy and trendy, it’s a hazard for some with vision impairments.

Make sure each room in the house has ample, bright, overhead and supplemental lighting to accommodate for all. Afterall, who wants to squint to see in their own home?

4. Light Switches and Outlets Placed at Easily Accessible Heights for All

All the bright lighting you’ve installed in your home is useless if only some members of the home are able to turn them on. Make sure light is accessible to all.

5. Stacked Closets on the First and Second Floor

Having ample closet space on the first floor is an accessible design feature in and of itself. For those with mobility limitations, going up and down the stairs just to grab an extra sweater if it’s chilly is an unnecessary hindrance.

Additionally, if your closets are stacked, they can be easily converted into an elevator shaft if needed to further improve accessible design.

6. Alarms with Visual Cues

For those who are hearing impaired, it is vital for safety that all sound-based indicators are adapted. This includes: fire and carbon monoxide alarms that flash rather than beep, as well as doorbells that have flashing lights for visual cues.

How to Create a Universal Design Home

The truth is: there is a very poor understanding of accessibility needs not only in the home building and remodeling community, but in our culture as a whole.

Too commonly we see situations where a homeowner finds themselves in need of an accessible bathroom to accommodate a family member unexpectedly after their home build. They call a contractor, who builds them an ADA compliant bathroom.

However, this fails to account for the individual homeowner and their needs. If an ADA compliant bar isn’t placed correctly for the individual based on their height and other considerations, it could cause strain and harm while using. While ADA guidelines and regulations are great, universal design and accessibility should not be a “one size fits all” approach.

The best way to create a universal design home is to account for any and all accessibility concerns during your build, and consulting with an expert throughout. That way, your home is custom tailored to your needs currently, and any needs that might pop up in the future. Avoid remodeling your home spaces one at a time once it’s clear those spaces are not accessible. This is not only inconvenient, but pricey as each small project adds up.

Create a Universal Design Home with Barden

Barden Building Products partners with the experts at Accessible Home Solutions to create a home that adheres to universal design and accounts for any present or future needs.

All of our home plans can be modified to incorporate any of the features mentioned, or better yet, drawn from scratch around your needs. Accessible Home Solutions is available to consult for any design to make sure you’re able to live in your home comfortably for as long as possible.

Since Barden manufactures your home’s frame exactly according to your plan, there is nothing left to interpretation. All unique features you want are included. You also choose the crews who build your home so you aren’t stuck with an unadaptable crew. For example, you can pick an electrician that understands your need for switches and outlets in special locations and can place them skillfully and without hassle.

Since we bring the design team and build team together, all of your needs will be met with no delays or headaches.

Curious about the other ins-and-outs of custom home building?

Explore our Custom Home Building Guide:


Custom Home Building Guide: Panelized Home Construction & Building the Barden Way - Learn More



Topics: Panelized Construction, Buffalo Home Building, Downsizing, Interior Design, Technical Specs, Process, Accessible Home Design, Home Customization

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