Why Universal Design Should Be More Universal

As the baby boomers reach their golden years, the design process for residential homes is shifting to a more conservative strategy. Universal design is known as the “design for all” approach, and is becoming especially popular with those who want to prepare to age in place in their present homes.

Universal Design is often confused with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). The ADA is a law meant to protect the civil rights for those with disabilities. This act has required specific regulations for building standards while Universal Design is a movement including a wide range of users and making daily activities easier. This strategy does not require specific standards.

The design strategy of Universal Design is simply the planning ahead and thoughtfulness of certain building features. The main principles of universal design are equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use. Here are some examples of thoughtful planning in Universal Design:

1. Curb cuts or ramps to help those in wheelchairs or those aging and in need of a walker, but it’s also very convenient for pushing strollers or luggage around.

2. Place blocking behind a bathroom wall, so when needed, a grab bar can be installed without tearing down the wall.

3. Building the main living area on one level is another way universal design helps plan for the future, as well as making routine tasks easier. By having the living room, master bedroom, kitchen, dining room, laundry room, etc. on one floor, if the homeowner needs the assistance of a wheelchair, they have access to all the rooms they need daily.

4. Pulls instead of knobs on cabinets for arthritic hands.

5. Enlarging the door openings to have a clear width of 32” for wheelchair access.

6. “Flexible appliances” such as under-counter refrigerators or sinks that lower with the press of a button. Also, leaving space under the sink or cabinets is beneficial for people in wheelchairs to be able to use the sink or counter space for cleaning and cooking.

7. Install lever handles on doors instead of knobs.

To learn more about universal design strategies and ways you can implement them into your own design, visit: https://www.ncsu.edu/www/ncsu/design/sod5/cud/pubs_p/docs/poster.pdf

At Fänas Architecture, we’d love to design your house and discuss further universal design strategies with you. Contact us at 303.444.5380 or info@fanasarchitecture.com.