What Is Universal Design?
Universal design is a concept in which an item or an environment is made usable for all people including the aging, the very young, people with disabilities and people without disabilities. You probably use universally designed items in your home every day and don't even know it, but there are a lot of options you can take advantage of to update your home and accommodate everyone in your family.
Think of things you use every day that could be easier to use like faucets, toilets, bathtubs and sinks. These are just some of the latest items that have been universally designed and are available to install in your home.
Many faucets are now temperature controlled to prevent scalding and have a single lever to turn on the water as opposed to two twisting knobs. Some faucets turn on with just a touch. This helps everyone, not just someone with debilitating arthritis.
Some toilets have universal design characteristics as well. Toilets that are 17” high afford easier sitting down and standing up. Some toilet seats can even close by themselves.
To make taking a shower easier, stalls can be built to be flush to the floor without a ledge to step over. All you have to do is just walk in without raising your legs. Grab bars in the shower are not only functional now, but come in very stylistic forms. No longer does a grab bar have to be cold, institutional steel.
To top off the bathroom, wall mounted sinks afford easy access. They allow leg room underneath for anyone using a mobility device such as a wheelchair or a walker.
A universal kitchen that has work zones with taller toe kicks, built-in cutting boards and lower countertops are part of the revolution. Multi-level countertops work the best as they can accommodate a wide variety of sitting and standing heights.
Touch faucets are made for the kitchen, too. This makes it easier for people to turn on the faucet without having to engage the hands or fingers.
Cabinets with roll-out shelves make life easy for everyone. You can see and reach to the back of the cabinet with little effort.
Universal Laundry Rooms
A laundry room should be large enough so that anyone can use it, even if in a wheel chair. A universally designed laundry room should have a 36” doorway with a 5’ diameter of open space in front of the washer and dryer.
Front load washers and dryers make accessibility easy for anyone. Put them on a 12 to 18 inch pedestal to raise their height and they are even easier to use.
Laundry rooms should be on the main floor of a home and have a countertop that is 28-30 inches off the floor so anyone can sit while folding clothes.
Although kitchens and bathrooms are the main focus of universal design, there are design options available for the entire house.
One of these options is motion detector lighting. Not only does it make turning on a light easier, but it also saves energy by turning itself off when there is no movement in the room. If there is no opportunity in the budget for these fixtures, consider large panel light switches instead of toggle switches. Like touch faucets, panel light switches do not require a range of hand and finger motions.
Universal design is for everyone. If universal design is done well, it shouldn’t be cold or institutional. It’s a way of thinking that has architects, designers and homeowners trending in a positive direction.