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Universal Design

Entry & Access | Kitchen | Bathroom

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What Is Universal Design?

Universal design refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to both people without disabilities and people with disabilities. The term “universal design” was coined to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

Principles and Guidelines of Universal Design

The Principles and Guidelines of Universal Design as defined by the Center of Universal Design at North Carolina State University:

One – Equitable Use

The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  • Provide the same means of use for all users: identical whenever possible; equivalent when not.
  • Avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users.
  • Provisions for privacy, security, and safety should be equally available to all users.
  • Make the design appealing to all users.

Two – Flexibility In Use

The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities

  • Provide choice in methods of use.
  • Accommodate right- or left-handed access and use.
  • Facilitate the user’s accuracy and precision.
  • Provide adaptability to the user’s pace.

Three – Simple and Intuitive Use

Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

  • Eliminate unnecessary complexity.
  • Be consistent with user expectations and intuition.
  • Accommodate a wide range of literacy and language skills.
  • Arrange information consistent with its importance.
  • Provide effective prompting and feedback during and after task completion.

Four – Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

  • Use different modes (pictorial, verbal, tactile) for redundant presentation of essential information.
  • Provide adequate contrast between essential information and its surroundings.
  • Maximize “legibility” of essential information.
  • Differentiate elements in ways that can be described (i.e., make it easy to give instructions or directions).
  • Provide compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices used by people with sensory limitations.

Five – Tolerance For Error

The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

  • Arrange elements to minimize hazards and errors: most used elements, most accessible; hazardous elements eliminated, isolated, or shielded.
  • Provide warnings of hazards and errors.
  • Provide fail safe features.
  • Discourage unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Six – Low Physical Effort

The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.

  • Allow user to maintain a neutral body position.
  • Use reasonable operating forces.
  • Minimize repetitive actions.
  • Minimize sustained physical effort.

Seven – 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.

  • Provide a clear line of sight to important elements for any seated or standing user.
  • Make reach to all components comfortable for any seated or standing user.
  • Accommodate variations in hand and grip size.
  • Provide adequate space for the use of assistive devices or personal assistance.

What Does Universal Design Mean to Me?

  1. Statistics show that you or a family member will undergo a physical transition at some point in your life. Whether it’s a temporary impairment, like a broken bone, or a permanent disability, we or one of our loved ones will be faced with change.
  2. The simple process of aging naturally increases our dependency on others. Universally designed features allow us to move through these changes and still enjoy equal opportunities, self-determination, self-respect and quality of life.
  3. When building or remodeling, it’s more cost effective to add many Universal Design features during the planning stage. There are a number of design features that can be built for little or no cost. Their addition at the beginning saves the need for future retrofits.

What are Some Common Examples of Universal Design?

You may already be using Universal Design concepts and didn’t realize it. Here’s a quick list:


  • Additional task lighting is needed for “older” eyes.
  • Added lighting is also advised in areas to increase safety, such as for stairs.


  • Push/pull lever faucets for those with limited hand strength or dexterity.
  • Side-by-side refrigerators.


  • Leverset entry or interior door hardware.
  • Wide swing hinges allow use of the entire doorway.


  • Barrier-free showers.
  • Add reinforcement into the wall substructure now in the event the addition of grab bars is needed later