Universal Design: Principles for People of All Abilities

“Why would you need to make your home ADA compliant?” my friend recently asked me when I told her of my remodeling plans. She’s got reason to question my logic: My husband and I are both able-bodied adults and my school-age son is not limited in his mobility. From the outside, our nuclear family doesn’t have a pressing need to implement Universal Design elements to our home. But our 30-something neighbor is in a wheelchair. Three of the four grandmothers can’t go anywhere without their walker, oxygen tank, or both. These are important people in our lives, and I’d love for them to visit our home without worrying about how to get around. We plan on staying put for a while, but even if we don’t stay in this house long enough to personally appreciate the accessible design features we’ve incorporated into it, they’ll be there for a family member, friend or even future homebuyer who can.

Universal Design is receiving increased attention within remodeling, homebuilding and designing communities, but the concept is not new. Summarized, it is the architectural and functional planning to accommodate people of all abilities. With increased awareness and popularity, providing functionality without sacrificing style has never been easier. Many companies now offer products or options that are ADA compliant yet have beautiful styles that can be incorporated into any home.

Along with your kitchen, the bathroom is one of the best places to start. Keeping your bathroom safe and accessible is one of the smartest modifications you can do for yourself, your family, and even for the resale value of your home. Below are some basic ways to incorporate universal design into your bathroom while keeping the style you love:

  • Lever-style door handles and faucets – From brushed nickel to oil-rubbed bronze, classic to contemporary, you can find door handles, faucets, cabinet pulls and other hardware in a variety of styles and finishes to match your style.
  • Tall toilets with slam-free seats and lids – Sitting two to three inches higher, taller toilets tend to be more comfortable for nearly everyone, and slam-free seats give additional safety. Both are simple and economical changes.
  • Shower bench – Choose from either a wall-mounted bench or seat that is built-in to the shower design to use as a safe place to rest for those who need it, or a handy storage shelf for those who don’t.
  • Low threshold or barrier-free showerBarrier-free shower units utilize minimal thresholds and sloped shower drains to meet ADA safety standards. And with beautiful tile designs and custom-coloring options and accenting, these showers incorporate perfectly with your existing décor. You can also expect to spend less time and money on a molded shower unit than a tiled shower stall.
  • Safety barsSafety bar placement largely depends on current mobility and needs, so only install one if you need to. But it is smart design to frame the tub, shower and toilet surround with ½” pressure-treated plywood for future safety bar placement. If you have a Best Bath unit in your home, it is already made with full-plywood backing for unlimited safety bar placement. And like door handles and faucets, there are a variety of styles and finishes available to blend into your existing design without that “institutional” look.

While there are many other Universal Design features – wider doors, wall-mounted sinks, lower counters and full wheelchair clearance, for example – that you can implement to make your bathroom fully accessible to people with the most limited mobility, even a few changes will make your bathroom safer for everyone.

Universal Design adds value and comfort to my home, and I can integrate various features seamlessly into my existing style. But most important, our loved ones have the peace of mind that our home is safer for their mobility needs. To my friend who asked why I intend to implement these concepts into our home now, I simply smiled and said, “Why haven’t you?”

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