The Trend Towards Universal Design

Universal Design is an idea that has been around for decades. For those of you that are not familiar with this term, it simply refers to design of products and spaces that are inherently accessible by people with and without disabilities. Universal Design is more of a concept that regulation. There are typically no “set in stone” rules of design you must adhere to like with ANSI (American National Standards Institute) and ADA (Americans with Disabilites Act) standards; rather a more common sense approach to accessibility in general. The idea is to design spaces and products that integrate and include all users rather than separate and distinguish between the handi-capable and capable.

Please note that when designing spaces for most commercial projects where accessibility standards must be met, ANSI/ADA and/or equivalent standards are required and cannot be substituted with Universal Design principles.

Many of our clients are coming to us with a request for Universal Design (even if they are not familiar with the exact term themselves); emphasizing the need for accessible space for an aging parent that may come to live with them or for themselves as they age in the home.

At grade entrances and wide doorways are few of the Universal Design features found in this East Boulder home.

One of our recently completed projects is a good example of how Universal Design can be applied to the design of a home in a non-intrusive and very subtle fashion. A few key elements illustrating the concept as applied include;

-Incorporating a ramp from the existing home to the new addition as opposed to stairs. This space is now called the Gallery and is where the owner hangs their artwork. The ramp is a special feature within the space that enhances rather than detracts from the overall feeling.

-All doors installed in the home are a minimum 2′-10″ wide: wide enough for a wheelchair to pass through.

-Their are multiple height countertops in the Kitchen which is achieved by including an old farmhouse table in the center of the space at a comfortable height for someone in a wheelchair to work.

-All flooring material transitions are flush and the material is smooth, but not slick (textured wood, non-slick tile and low pile carpet).

-The bathrooms meet accessible standards for turn-around space, knee space under counters and the guest bath has an ADA approved toilet with grab bars and roll-in shower.

-Light switches and other controls are located at a lower height and all lever handles for door hardware.

The owners are thrilled as is their 93 year old mother when she comes to visit.

A little foresight and planning is really all that is involved with incorporating Universal Design into a project and it can truly make a huge difference in the end users experience of the space.