Inclusive Design / Universal Design / ADA

What is the coolest thing you have seen in the built environment that promote inclusivity? Inclusive design is a strategy that provides design solutions that work for everyone no matter their unique ability. This is a openness to strategies included in Universal Design and ADA and thinking about who that does not cover. Inclusivity means breaking down broken ways of thinking to include innovation. Inclusivity allows for kids to play together, adults to hang out, and all of them to do it no matter their ability.

merry go round

Send me photos in the comments below of places where you have seen a lack of inclusive design elements.


What improvements do you see in daily life that could make life easier for everyone?

I was out shopping with my mom this weekend. She has difficulty walking and uses handicap parking spaces to make it easier to get into stores. We drove to two different stores and parked in a handicap space each time. Both stores had design issues with the placement of the handicap spaces and landscape beds. Good design would have prevented this scenario and made life easier for all those using the parking space. What design issues have you seen that could improve life for everyone?


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).

Easy Living Home

What is an Easy Living Home? Yes, another certification, this one is intended to encourage builders and home owners of single-family homes, duplexes and triplexes to include Easy Living Home features in the design and construction of new homes.

Easy Living Home design features make a home more livable for homeowners and visitors with any ability. Whether you are dealing with strollers, carrying in groceries, dealing with a broken ankle, or moving in that new refrigerator these features benefit the ease of use of your home.

Easy Living Home features include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Easy Access – step-free entrance from a driveway, sidewalk, or other firm route into the central living area.
  • Easy Passage – Exterior doors that provide access is one thing, but once you get into the home you need to be able to get around. Installing at least a 2′-10″ door to the key rooms of your home make it possible to get around the home.
  • Easy Use – the main floor should be designed as an open plan with a first floor bedroom and full bathroom.


Great ideas to make your home “user-friendly”

1. Equitable Use – The design is useful and marketable to people with any ability. (Who wants to have to bend down to find that missing sock, make things easier for everyone)


2. Flexibility of Use – The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. (Grab bars don’t have to look institutional)


3. Simple and Intuitive Use – Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or education level. (a programmable thermostat that learns your patterns)

Nest Thermostat

4. Perceptible Information – The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities. (design should allow everyone to feel comfortable)


5. Tolerance for Error – The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. (don’t get burned by hot water or let your kids get burned)


6. Low Physical Effort – The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of fatigue. (Ever wanted to sit down for a bit after a long day while starting dinner prep)


7. Size and Space for Approach and Use – Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. (Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to move that furniture around the room, up the stairs, or out the door without taking out a window)

Charlottesville Architect