Design for the future: Universal Design for Every Building

Proper planning for buildings reduce the need for future renovations, extend the service life of buildings, and make it possible for people of all abilities to have access and function. When designing for accessibility the results often focus on wheelchair use in a building. These are limiting strategies that don’t work for most people and even do not work for many in wheelchairs. Universal Design on the other hand has a more holistic approach that focuses on all abilities rather than specific disabilities. UD allows easy navigation by everyone, regardless of age, height, eyesight, mobility, and dexterity.


UD is encouraged by those wanting a home that lasts a lifetime. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) survey, 73% of adults 45 and older wish to stay in their current residence as long as possible. However, fewer than half have basic accommodations for universal design in their homes.

Good planning for Universal Design prior to construction incorporates many strategies into a home that will reduce future renovations. Strategies to focus on include:

Open Floor Plans – with fewer walls, there are fewer corners or narrow passageways to navigate.

Adjustable workspace heights – Conventional heights are simply done “because that is the way we always do it”. Having a variety of work surfaces allows for kids to work in the kitchen, someone in a wheelchair to comfortably make dinner, or someone taller than average to work without bending over.

No-step entryways – From the front door to room to room transitions, having a home with no steps allows easy transitions for moving in a stroller to a wheelchair.towel-grab bar

Doors with lever handles – Another strategy to make life easier. A lever handle will allow you to open a door with your elbow if your hands are full or with arthritis.

Roll in Shower – Having a shower that does not require a step to get into makes it safer to use on a daily basis.

merillat-universalbasetable_250x188__entry_mediumAlthough it is impossible to plan for every future possible, planning for easy access will make your building more livable for a lifetime. Here is a longer checklist of items to include (click here). In Virginia, there is a tax credit that helps with incorporating these strategies (click here).