Universal Design vs Accessible Design

Universal Design Vs. Accessible Design: What is the Difference?

Nathan Colburn Articles

Great design should be part of every home, and two schools of thought have emerged. Everybody is talking about Universal Design, which is changing both commercial and residential construction for the better.  Focused on principle of universal use, universal design dramatically improves the use by everyone, children, people with disabilities, the aging population, and everyone in between. However, Accessible Design, is amazingly personal, and can create a personal environment specific for your needs.  Which one is better and how are universal design and accessible design different?

Many of the uses of universal design and Accessible Design are focused on commercial building which is covered by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). The ADA does not apply to your home or any residential home. Unfortunately, the ADA has some generic principles that are helpful, but both universal design and accessible design go further.

Differences Between Universal Design and Accessible Design

In your home, it comes down to the degree of personalization. By nature, Universal Design is improving home for use by everyone vs. your individual use. You may choose to use some of both to make your home special.

Screenshot of an article about Universal Design

A House That Works for Everyone

Examples of Universal Design in Your Home

  • Open Concept Floorplan – avoid sharp boundaries between rooms without doorways
  • Lever Handle Door Hardware vs. Round Door handles
  • Lowered Height Light Switches
  • Raised Height Electrical Outlets – no bending down
  • Euro Style Showers that are larger and have a smaller step to enter
  • Wall Mounted Vanity to open up more floor space
  • Shower and Bathtub Valves that are easy to reach
  • Single Handle Valves that turn on the water and adjust the temperature as you turn one handle
  • Larger Bedrooms and Bathrooms
  • More Space on the same level of the home
  • Pull Out Shelves
  • Multi Height Countertops
  • No Step Entry to the home or rooms in the home
  • Appliance Drawers that pull out vs. doors for dishwasher/refrigerator/freezer
  • Rounded Corners on Countertops

Examples of Accessible Design in Your Home

Many of these concepts will help your home be easier to use. But Accessible Design goes farther, and can really future proof your home. By including all the easy to use functions of universal design, Accessible Design focuses on the making the home accessible for people with disabilities and including features that would be very difficult to add later. These can also be called accessible home modifications.

  • 36 inch doorways for all entrances and doorways in the home
  • Pocket Doors or Barn Doors that slide open taking much less space and movement vs. swinging doors
  • No Bump Thresholds for exterior doorways – most doorways have a 1/2 inch or 1 inch bump built into the threshold
  • Level Flooring that is either low pile or Berber carpet or harder surfaces like tile, or hardwood
  • Level Flooring between rooms so you can glide easily
  • Roll Under Countertops, Sinks, and Cooktops
  • Cooktops with front mounted controls vs reaching over a hot burner to adjust heat
  • Level Yards with seamless entrance from driveway to garage or front door
  • Wireless Control Smart Home Features
  • Voice Controlled Smart Home Features
  • Barrier Free Showers with no step or door to enter
  • 5 foot x 5 foot Turning Circles in all rooms especially the bathroom, kitchen and in front of all doorways
  • Doorways that open out of the room so you can’t be trapped in the room if you block the door
  • Stacked closets (4 foot x 5 foot or larger) on each level for future elevator use
  • Power Automatic Door Openers
  • Handholds or Grab Bars at convenient heights
  • Pass thru closets and rooms with 2 doors at each end vs. a dead end space

Both Universal Design and Accessible Design are thinking about the user and making the home convenient and upgraded. Accessible Design is truly planning ahead to avoid having to move when your needs change. The biggest barrier is the lack of awareness of these needs and features when we choose a home. At a minimum, you should look for Universal Design to be built into every home. It costs very little to add, but you save work, stress, and additional expenses every day you live there.

Come into our adapted showhome to see most of these design features and to understand your options.

Universal Design vs Accessible Design Resources