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What is Universal Design in Housing?

Posted on by John Burfield

If you’ve been researching home accessibility or products such as stair lifts or ramps, you may have come across the term universal design. While it may sound like some sort of New Age philosophy, it is really the cornerstone of the accessibility movement.

Simply put, universal design is the concept of creating products or spaces that can be used by individuals of all abilities. An example of universal design would be building a home with features that can be utilized by all users equally. For instance, the entryway of the home could have a sloped concrete walkway that leads to a front door with a barrier-free threshold and a door wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

Inside the home, this could include wide hallways and doorways that are easy for a wheelchair user to navigate. A kitchen might have countertops of varying heights, drop-down cabinet racks and a roll-under sink. The bathroom would be large enough to turn a wheelchair, have a zero-entry or a barrier-free roll-in shower, roll-under sinks, and a tilting mirror that can be adjusted to accommodate both seated and standing users.

Ideally, a building or home is built from the ground up utilizing the concepts of universal design. However, the reality is that most homes, both old and new, do not incorporate these principles.

Fortunately, there are options to increase the usability of these spaces and adhere to the principles of universal design. Through home modifications or retrofitting, barriers that limit a home’s accessibility can be eliminated.

Examples of home modifications include the installation of stair lifts, vertical platform wheelchair lifts, ceiling lifts and ramps as well as renovations, such as widening doors and converting standard step-in bathtubs to zero-entry showers.

If you want to learn more about universal design, there are many resources to choose from. Some good places to start include your local area agency on aging (AAAs), a disability advocacy group, or a qualified home access provider.

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