Beginning in 2007, Steve Hoffacker, CAPS, through his CAPS classes, universal design course, universal design books, aging in place blog, consulting, and other educational programs has become an internationally recognized thought leader on aging in place and universal design/visitability topics and solutions. Many of these examples are published in various articles and programs Steve offers.

Nevertheless, here are more than forty strategies that can be employed as universal design features that also have aging in place and visibility applications. If you have heard or read 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 – a recommended size is 60″ square (5′ x 5′)

02. Construct a hard-surface (concrete, bricks, pavers) multi-purpose loading/unloading/landing area adjacent to the driveway wide enough to safely load and unload passengers when the vehicle is parked right at the edge of the pavement or 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 to an entry point into the home (main door or side door)

04. Create low-rise/no-step/easy-step/bridged entry thresholds to effectively eliminate any large step-up to enter and follow current building codes to eliminate the grade separation altogether

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 rainwater and melting snow away from where it might drip on people approaching doorway or allow it to pool and create footing issues

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), ideally with a slight bend or return on the open end of the handle

10. Install keypad/remote controlled/fingerprint activated entry door locks with buttons large enough and easy to see for a variety of abilities and users

11. Establish an entry station near the entrance doorway – a shelf attached to the wall, a cabinet or table, bench, chair, or other items that can withstand the weather and provide a surface to receive items 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 although twin doors and sliding options (pocket or barn doors) can be significantly wider)

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 or eliminate the door swing completely with a cased opening or sliding door across the space

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

15. Install hard surface, easy-care flooring products throughout the home (but be careful of glare or slippery conditions) and create smooth/level transitions between surfaces and changes in flooring materials so there is no noticeable bump or safety concern – maintain a separation of no more than ½” in height but level is ideal

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

17. Interrupt monochromatic color schemes (in flooring, wall surfaces, and furnishings) and establish reasonable amounts of contrast

18. 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

19. 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 and navigation

20. Replace cabinet and drawer hardware with low-effort, easy-to-use rods or bars, magnetic or tension catches, or soft-close self-closing mechanisms and make sure the handles are free of protruding material extending past the mounting posts – such material creates a safety hazard capable of catching skin, clothing, or straps

21. Locate frequently accessed and used items in pantries, storage closets, cabinets, cupboards, and shelving in a general range of 18”-48” from the floor

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

23. Consider using alternatives to upper cabinets with traditional shelving by using pull-out, pull-downs, and rotating shelving system inserts

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

25. Create 30″ tall free-standing or in-line kitchen desks, islands, and sit-down vanities to provide areas (for a variety of purposes) to use while sitting or in a wheelchair

26. Supplement interior lighting with skylights (tubular or traditional, operating or fixed) and use walkway and passageway lighting accents (solar activated lighting, timer controlled, undermount, pedestal, surface, or strips as undercabinet, valence, toekick, handrail, stair treads, or other uses) both indoors and outside

27. Use single-lever faucets (especially in the kitchen) with water stream away from the drain

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

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

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

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

32. 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

33. Lower window sills dramatically (no higher than 12″ above the floor) for increased view (all) and egress (those that open) while adding tempered glass for safety or even impact-resistant frames and glass that can be opened and closed easily

34. Install mirrors as low as possible over sinks (no higher than 40″ above the floor and preferably lower) and have at least one full-length mirror as a wall accessory, piece of furniture, or closet door

35. Use rocker (Decora) light switches or torch controls and dimmer switches instead of the smaller toggle switches and raise or lower them for easier access from a standing or seated position to an optimal position of 40-44″ above the floor

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

37. Have a hand-held personal shower with an on-off switch located on the wand or handheld unit

38. Install strategic grab bars (one vertical installation just outside the entrance to tub or shower) and remove tempting towel bars – at heights to match your client’s needs

39. 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

40. Create zero-entry/no-step/barrier-free showers that can be entered with minimal effort regardless of anyone’s ability or requirements

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

42. Install a fold-down shower seat that can be deployed as needed and retracted out of the way when not required

43. For additional sleeping arrangements, consider murphy beds, trundle beds, or convertible sofas in bedrooms, home offices, sewing rooms, dens, family rooms, or basements and provide a dedicated first-floor sleeping room or one that can be used as such, preferably with an ensuite bath