Universal Design Strategies

Universal Design Strategies For Safe,
Comfortable, & Accessible Homes

Beginning in 2007, Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, CEAC, SHSS, provides - through his CAPS classes, the universal design course, his universal design books, his aging in place blog and public programs - examples and strategies of how to create effective living environments through the use of universal design strategies. Many of these are widely known and accepted by aging in place and universal design providers. Some are lesser known but just as important and effective.
You will see some examples shown on his various Pinterest boards and even more strategies than those listed below explained in his books. 

Nevertheless, here are more than sixty (60) strategies that can be employed as universal design features that also have aging-in-place and visitability applications. If you have heard Steve speak about these, you'll know that some are relatively simple to accomplish and can be done by the homeowner or renter (or someone they know such as a family member, friend, or neighbor). Others can be completed relatively easily by a handyman. A few will require construction and renovation.

Some Suggested Universal Design Strategies For Improving The Quality Of Living In Homes
01. ​Create and maintain clear and sufficient approach zones near doorways (interior and exterior, but especially exterior) so they can be accessed and used easily and effectively

02. Construct a hard-surface (concrete, bricks, pavers) multi-purpose loading/unloading/landing area adjacent to the driveway

03. Make and use wide, inclined entry sidewalks (that can be winding, switching, or bending and attractively landscaped and surfaced) rather than ramps for traversing from the driveway or perimeter walkway

04. Create low-rise/no-step/easy-step/bridged entry thresholds to effectively eliminate any large step-up to enter

05. Inspect walkways and remove branches, roots, hoses, sand, gravel, leaves, toys, and other objects that interfere with safe footing and passage

06. Install guttering to take rain water and melting snow away from where it might drip on people approaching doorway

07. Make sure that downspouts drain away from walkways and repair low areas on driveways or walkways where pooling of water occurs (after rain or yard sprinkling)

08. Create a covered/sheltered entry (more than just a normal overhang) to shield residents and visitors from the weather (rain or snow as well as wind-blown precipitation) as they enter and exit the main door of the home

09. Use lever door handles on all doors (interior and exterior)

10. Install keypad/remote controlled/fingerprint activated entry door locks

11. Establish an entry station near the entrance doorway – a shelf attached to the wall, a cabinet or table, bench, chair, or other item that can withstand the weather and provide a surface for items to be placed as someone frees their hands to open the door – can be done at all entrances

12. Use 36” doorways (or greater) throughout the home – 36” is currently the widest doors commercially produced and available to consumers and contractors

13. Make sure the door swing (the way it opens) to the left or right, or in or out, is appropriate for the space where it is located

14. Consider the use of archways/cased openings (with no actual doors present) for openings that do not need a physical door slab to be opened and closed – the opening creates a doorway appearance and separation of spaces

15. For openings wider than 36” (up to 8’ or more), think of using barn, sliding, pocket, or folding doors (with or without glass panels)

16. Widen or construct hallways to 42”-45” to allow two-way access in the hallway, accommodate wheelchair or walker use, and permit a 36” doorway at the end of the hallway (if a doorway already exists or is desired)

17. Install hard surface, easy-care flooring products throughout the home (but be careful of glare or slippery conditions) 

18. Create smooth/level transitions between surfaces and changes in flooring materials so there is no noticeable bump or safety concern

19. Create an attractive hallway chair rail for support and as an architectural feature rather than appearing as an obvious hand rail

20. When a central vacuum system exists or can be installed, use floor level automatic dust ports in conjunction with them for comfort and convenience

21. Break-up monochromatic color schemes (in flooring, wall surfaces, and furnishings) and establish reasonable amounts of contrast

22. Reduce glare from overhead or natural window lighting that might reflect off shiny or polished surfaces (such as tables, countertops, and furniture), appliance fronts, TV or monitor screens, picture frame glass, or floors with a sheen

23. Eliminate or reduce the appearance of busyness in patterns (wallpaper, upholstery, or flooring) and remove clutter (whether loose or in containers) to enhance internal safety

24. Replace cabinet and drawer hardware with low-effort, easy-to-use drawer pulls and knobs, magnetic or tension catches, or self-closing mechanisms

25. Select drawer and cabinet pulls without protruding material extending past the mounting posts – such material creates a safety hazard capable of catching skin or clothing 

26. Utilize mechanical/motorized shelving and more drawers and bins to bring glassware, food stuffs, containers, and cookware to the user

27. Locate frequently accessed and used items in pantries, storage closets, cabinets, cupboards, and shelving in a general range of 24”-48” from the floor

28. Switch out sink and vanity blank fronts with tilt-out storage bins

29. Consider using alternatives to upper cabinets such as wall mounted plate racks and open shelving

30. Use retractable cabinet doors to create knee space for access to countertop while sitting or using a wheelchair

31. Create free-standing or in-line kitchen desks and sit-down vanities to provide areas (for a variety of purposes) to use while sitting or in a wheelchair

32. Supplement interior lighting with skylights (tubular or traditional, operating or fixed)

33. Use walkway and passageway lighting accents (solar activated lighting, timer controlled, undermount, pedestal, surface, or strips) both indoors and outside 

34. ​Bolster kitchen lighting with in-cabinet (glass front or solid doors), atop cabinets (valence), in drawer, under cabinet (“task”), along or under open shelving (wooden or glass, opaque or clear/translucent), and toe-kick lighting

35. Use single-lever faucets (especially in the kitchen) with water stream forward of drain

36. Go with smaller islands that allow sufficient maneuverability and access around the island and adjacent cabinets and appliances

37. Provide lower island top surfaces (to accommodate normal height chairs and wheelchair seating) rather than traditional countertop (36”) or raised surfaces (42”) where tall stools are necessary

38. Include pull-out/pull-down/pull-up surfaces (boards, tables, or shelves) in cabinets for prep and eating areas

39. Choose convenient-to-use, accessible appliances, including front-loading washer (or low height stackable) with controls up front also, french door/armoire-style refrigerator (with lighted, exterior ice and water dispenser), and a microwave or wall oven located at a useable height

40. ​Drawer-style appliance units (warming drawers, microwaves, refrigerators, and dishwashers) can save space and enhance access

41. Choose appliances with lighted, up-front, low-effort, touch controls and locate them at eye level or lower

42. For range hoods, use down-draft exhaust systems or install them as low as possible with switches added to cabinet or appliance fronts to accommodate people who cannot reach them when located on the units themselves

43. For overhead lighting, use dimmer switch controls to provide the amount of light desired and to control glare

44. In addition to skylights, add overhead lighting in other rooms with ceiling fan light kit fixtures

45. Lower window sills for increased efficiency and select windows that can be opened and closed easily

46. Install mirrors as low as possible over sinks and have at least one full-length mirror as a piece of furniture or closet door

47. Use rocker (Decora) light switches or torch controls instead of the smaller toggle switches

48. Raise or lower switches/outlets for easier access from a standing or seated position

49. Install lighted switches so they can be seen and accessed in low light

50. Using programmable or preset switches allows lights to be turned on for a set period of time and then turned off without any additional action

51. Install digital thermostats and other easy-to-read temperature controls for safety and convenience

52. Use visual clues (such as colored coded or digital displays) and signals or audible tones for sensory reinforcement

53. Have a hand-held personal shower with an on-off switch located on the wand

54. Install strategic grab bars (one vertical installation just outside the entrance to tub or shower) and remove tempting towel bars – don’t try to imitate or follow ADA style or placement guidelines

55. Remove towel bars and rings, soap dishes, and other accessory items not intended for support that might be mistakenly used for assistance during a slip

56. Create zero-entry/no-step/barrier-free showers that can be entered with minimal effort – walking, rolling, or with assistance

57. Use linear/trench shower drains – located along the perimeter wall, up front like a traditional tub installation, or used to define the shower space

58. Install a fold-down shower seat that can be deployed as needed and retracted out of the way when not required – or construct a built-in shower seat/bench at an appropriate height and location (and or a suitable easy-to-maintain material such as tile or marble) to be usable not be in the way

59. For additional sleeping arrangements, consider murphy beds, trundle beds, or convertible sofas in bedrooms, home offices, sewing rooms, dens, family rooms, or basements

60. Create a first floor sleeping room, preferably with an ensuite bath
Share by: