You’re designing your dream home or renovating your current residence. Grab bars in the shower or wheelchair accessible doorways may not be on your wish list unless someone in your household has a physical disability.

With a new attention to design for people with disabilities, barrier-free design was developed in the 1950’s to remove obstacles in the built environment for people with physical disabilities.

Today, with the ever growing number of multi-generations living under one roof, universal design is an approach that incorporates barrier-free products as well as building features and elements which can be used by everyone.

Perfectly suited for aging in place, universal design is also great for families with young children.


Accessible homes start with plans that are very open, with fewer walls to obstruct movement and wider doors and hallways to allow wheelchairs easy passage.

Starting with a no-step threshold, build on one level with no stairs to negotiate.

One of the easiest things to do is to replace door knobs with levers and rocker light switches. Great for all of us, you’ll never go back to knobs or standard switches.

Trade out your traditional faucets for models with blade handles or motion controls.

For hallways and doorways, consider eliminating stairs and level changes wherever possible; widen all hallways to at least 36 inches, eliminate long halls whenever possible, and make most, if not all doorways and room openings at least 36 inches.

Lower wall switches and raise receptacles throughout the home so that that they are easier to reach; install illuminated versions where appropriate for safely and convenience.

Other features just make good sense and once you bring them into your home, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them. For example:

Good lighting helps people with poor vision. And it helps everyone else. Well-lit walkways, high contrast house numbers, motion-sensor or timed lights. Indoors: light switches at both ends of hallways, even lighting with low glare, color contrasts between spaces. Mirrors at heights for anyone standing or seated.

Mobility hazards means eliminating cracks in walkways, choosing slip-and trip-resistant rugs and flooring.

Space for maneuvering wheelchairs and walkers in all rooms and hallways. Varying the heights of kitchen and bathroom counters with space to roll wheelchairs under.

Minimize hard surfaces for less echo and add noise-dampening treatments to improve acoustics for those with hearing impairments.


Allow enough room for a 360-degree turn.

One easy way to assure that a bathroom is usable by small children as well as someone in a wheelchair is to simply lower one vanity sink and eliminate the cabinet underneath, opting instead for a slim vanity shelf.

Consider automatic flushing mechanisms and install anti-scalding temperature controls in showers.

Floors and bathtubs with non-slip surfaces help everyone stay on their feet. They’re not just for people who are frail. The same goes for handrails on steps and grab bars.

A soaking tub with a side wall that rises and lowers, lets you step in easily yet still get a spa-like bath.

A hands-free, battery-operated faucet means no more wrestling with knobs that will detect you within four inches, and shut off seconds after you step away.


Wall ovens with doors that open to the side rather than fold down to the front are easy to use by everyone.

Lower the cook top so that burners are easily accessible by a short person or from a wheelchair.

Investigate refrigerator and dishwasher drawers; store dishes in below-counter drawers and eliminate upper cabinets.

Install pull-out shelves and corner Lazy-Susans.

Replace hard-to-hold cabinet and drawer pulls with D-shaped handles or lever pulls is a simple way to make any drawer easier to access. Touch-controlled drawers and cabinets mean no more pulling or lifting.

New technological advances come on the market all the time to make our homes easier to navigate. Discuss the latest in universal design with your design-builder.


Your home is where you’re happiest, where you share milestones and entertain friends. If you or a family member has mobility issues, navigating the stairs may be a challenge. Installing a home elevator can alleviate falling on steps, and make transporting everything from pets to luggage between floors easy.

There are four common types of residential elevator power systems:
Cable-Driven Elevators
are powered by a cable wound around a drum. Built with metal or glass shafts, they require a pit and machine room in addition to the shaft itself in order to operate, so they are most cost-effective when built into new-construction.
Chain-Driven Elevators
are similar to cable-driven elevators but powered by a chain wound around a drum, are more durable and do not require a machine room. With their saving space design, they are easier to include in a retrofit.

Hydraulic Elevators are powered by a piston that travels inside a cylinder that connects to a system which pumps a fluid, typically oil, to control the elevator’s movements. They do not require separate machine rooms as the power system is contained entirely within the elevator shaft itself, but they do require a pit to be dug below the elevator shaft. Relatively simple, they can be retrofit into an existing home.
Pneumatic Elevators
use a vacuum system within a tube to power the elevator car’s movement. Because these elevators are entirely vacuum-powered, they do not require a pit or machine room. Entirely visible,  their design adds an element of interest to your home decor. Because these elevators are entirely vacuum-powered, they do not require a pit or machine room, making it easy to retrofit into an existing home.

Consult your architect about the the best type of residential elevator for your home.


Have an electric car or scooter? You may want to install a charging station in your garage.

There are two types of EV (electrical vehicle) chargers: Level 1 and Level 2. Your car manufacturer should provide you with a Level 1 charging cable when you buy the car; this cord simply plugs into a standard grounded wall outlet using a regular household current of 120 volts. Level 2 chargers offer approximately 25 miles of range per hour of charge, but need 240-volts and require a dedicated circuit.

Consider installing the charger close to the garage door in order to be able to charge a vehicle in the driveway when necessary.

With universal design features built into your home, your residence remains livable for everyone you love. (photo)