“Universal Design Doesn’t Need To Be An ‘All Or Nothing’ Approach”

In our exuberance to get people to employ universal design concepts in their homes, whether it’s new construction or the remodeling or existing homes, we tend to want a near-complete list of features utilized. Actually, there are some features that aren’t appropriate for every home because some only apply to multi-story homes and others are based more on personal preference within a range of choices that are acceptable. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit of recommending and providing good accessible design and to be less than satisfied if a certain number of features aren’t included. There are dozens of possible universal design choices for a home, depending on how large it is, on what type of a homesite it’s situated, and what type of styling might already be present.

In some cases, there might already be some basic universal design treatments present such as lever door handles and rocker light switches. There could be digital thermostats also. Many people don’t even think of these as anything special – and that’s the point. They are universal design features that are used so frequently that they have gained general market acceptance. In fact, when they aren’t present, they are more obvious and noticeable than when they are.

Even if a builder, homeowner, or renter did nothing more than just have such basic features such as lever door handles and rocker light switches, although we would prefer them to have many more features, we would still say that their homes incorporate some universal design components – because they do.

This is where we get into the argument of just how many features being used in a home constitutes being described as universal design – two, five, ten, twenty, fifty?

It doesn’t have to be, nor should it be, an “all or nothing” proposition where a home is only considered to be universal design by us and other professionals if it meets a certain threshold number of features or includes certain “mandatory” or required elements – according to us.

In fact, as design professionals, we might not agree on what features should be used in a particular home, which ones we personally would recommend, which we would lobby against using, and how we would prioritize the features we would want to see based on someone’s budget.

While there is a long list of possible universal design features and treatments that can be used or included in a home, few homes may have everything included that we would like to see. Therefore, we should strive to have as many features used as someone’s budget and personal tastes will initially allow – even if it’s just a handful for now. Then we can encourage them to do more over time as they continue to live in their home. There likely will be plenty they can add to their home to enhance safety, comfort, accessibility, and convenience.

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