Universal Design in House Construction and Why is it Important?

Universal design is a design practice that is well thought and designed by keeping in mind all age groups. If you are planning to build a new home you obviously will be living in it for several years, but you do not know what all can happen in those years maybe you have very precisely thought and designed a high wardrobe for yourself but within some time you might meet with an accident so now you are no longer able to use that wardrobe. 

This is what universal design tackles with it suggests to design the home in a way so that it can always be used by everyone living in the house regardless of their age, how tall or short they are, or if they have any kind of disability or illness. 

Everyone using the same space has equal right to enjoy their comfort, safety, and mobility in the space they shouldn’t be dependent on others to help them use the space always.

Every individual should be able to move freely around the house without the fear of any injury or obstacles coming their way. So let us see the importance or benefits that universal design provides us:-

Benefits of Universal design in House Cosntruction

1. Allows equitable use

Universal design has something for everyone as it is designed by keeping in the mind the needs of all the users with mixed abilities, therefore it ensures a better living environment and better interaction among all.

2. Flexible Design

Universal design can be customized by all users according to their needs and preferences so that everyone is more flexible and independent while using the space. For e.g in universal design instead of a gripping knob as the door handle a 360-degree lever can be used so that everyone can use it comfortably.

3. Independent and safe for all

Universal design is a barrier-free design that means everyone irrespective of their age and abilities can use the space in their own manner, which eliminates interdependence on each other. To make it more safe and secure it uses safety elements like:

  • Curb less shower
  • Shower seat just under the shower
  • Step-free entrances
  • Grab bars at places.
  • Slip-resistant tiles and so on.

4. Provides perceptible information

Universal design suggests that the design should be perceived by all even if they have visual or hearing disabilities. All the equipment installations are done in a way so that it provides the user the information they need in order to use the space.

5. Low physical Impact

The universal design also ensures that there are fewer repetitive physical actions by the users in order to comfortably use the space.

6. Size and space approach

Another benefit that universal design gives is the physical size of the space is designed for all irrespective of their body size, posture, or mobility issues. There is always a clear line of sight whether the user is standing or sitting. All the cabinets and installations are built in a way so that everyone can approach them.

7. Higher selling value

Universal design home retains it value over a period of time and increase the resale value. Different features like open plans , safety and security measures and use of materials and new construction techniques makes the universal homes more in demand specially in elderly people with some or the other kind of disability as they need a safe and comfortable environment as a priority.

Examples of Universal Design

To understand the concept better let us see some examples of homes with universal design

  1. Doors in universal design are generally broad minimum 1- 1.2 m wide this not only helps and assist people with disabilities but also makes the space look spacious and beautiful. Also using automatic sensor doors can also help.
Foldable door with smooth transition

In this picture you can see how this home has a foldable door with smooth transition.

Entrance with sensor automatic doors for wheelchair entry

This picture shows the entry with a sensor automatic door wide enough to enter a wheelchair.

Interior sliding door without any step or level on entry

This picture again shows a great example of interior sliding door without any step or level on entry.

  1. To maintain a proper grip so that everyone easily operates the door the lever is used instead of knobs , even if someone is carrying a lot of stuff lever system helps, the best part is they comes in a lot of different varieties in markets.
Lever system that helps in smooth movement from room to room

Lever system is much easier to use as it is smooth in transition.

  1. To make the entryways flat so that it is easier for elderly and people with wheelchair to access the home, sometimes plinth is made below the ground to make the entry at the ground level, this helps the person enter the house without needing a ramp and easy transfer of furniture and large equipment.
No step entry for a smooth transition for older and disable people

The no step entry gives a smooth transition to older and people with disabilities.

  1. Linear building layouts can be put with some creativity in universal design so that everyone irrespective of their age and abilities have clear line of sight whether sitting or in motion.
  1. Tactile textures can be given on the walls instead of clear smooth paint walls so that people with vision problem can easily access through the house.
textures in walls to make it easier for visually disable people to navigate
textures and cutouts in walls for visually disable people to navigate

These kinds of textures and punctures in the walls make it easier for people with visual disability to navigate.

  1. Natural lighting should be given major preference in all over the house so that the house looks more open and users do not feel the need to switch on artificial lights during the daytime at least.
Lights that can be controlled using apps for disabled people

Being able to control lights without going up to the switch isn’t it amazing?

  1. Artificial lights should also be neatly designed; there should be proper location of ambient, spot and accent lighting etc. If possible smart lighting or remote controlled lighting and electric connections can also be given.
Intelligent use of natural and artifical lights for better lighting inside rooms

In the above picture you can see the intelligent use of all kinds of lights wherever required.

  1. In the bathrooms for bathtubs/shower choose an adjustable shower head so that the person can adjust it according to his/her comfort while bathing.
Bathroom with supports for disabled and elderly

In this picture you can see how a old bathroom has been given all the measures of a universal design.

  1. In the kitchen pulls, downs/ups can be used instead of knobs in cabinets and drawers.
  2. In kitchen install varied height or adjustable countertops and cabinets
Adjustable counter tops for disabled persons
Pullout countertop drawers for disabled persons

These adjustable and pullout countertops are everything that a disabled person can desire.

  1. For someone disabled to cook with wheelchair open spaces can be left under the sink, counters, island etc. for them to be easily able to cook.
storages and counters that can be accessed by disabled and elderly
  1. If possible there can be one ramp access inside the house for the people with physical disabilities or there can also be stair lift installed through the stair for everyone to easily access through the floors.
Ramps to easily access floors for disabled
An escalator for disabled people to access stairs

For a short distance these ramps can also be made instead of steps otherwise stair lifts are a great option.

Many of the time when people get old they start feeling that they won’t be able to fit in that bathtub or won’t be able to approach that cabinet or a long heighted bed, universal design eliminates all these possibilities.

 So, to summarize everything about universal design it allows you to use the home the same way as you would use the space as a young or even after becoming elderly. It will even allow you to hold guests or people easily who often visits your home. 

You won’t have to limit the type of people who can come to your house like a relative who is disabled to someone who has a hearing problem everybody can access the home on their own terms and comfort. It is also a kind of a onetime investment as with changing time as you grow old or some of your needs change you won’t have to redesign it.

– Asmita Madan