Universal Design


Universal design ensures that people of all ages and ability levels can use buildings, products, and the built environment without adaptation (see also Chapter 11, Financial Services and Consumer Products—Innovation for All for information on universal design in products). Examples of universal design in housing include wide doorways, adequate maneuvering space in kitchens and bathrooms, switches and handles that are easy to reach and operate, and slide-out shelves. These and other relatively simple features enable people to remain in their homes even as their needs change over time.

Visitability features are a subset of universal design that addresses access to the main part of the house to ensure that visitors with mobility limitations are able to go to the homes of friends and relatives. Being able to do this supports important, life-enriching interactions. Visitability features include wide doorways, a zero-step entrance, and no-stair access to a toilet facility with adequate space for maneuverability.

Incorporating these features into new home design makes sense when the costs and benefits to current and future homebuyers and residents are considered. These structural elements come at a relatively low cost when included during construction, but they can be cost-prohibitive to add or change after a home is finished. Some local jurisdictions have begun promoting these features in new construction through code requirements or incentives to consumers and builders in order to deal with the needs of residents and visitors.

Most policy initiatives that support universal design focus on single-family homes and buildings with fewer than four units, which both fall outside federal design requirements. These features can be included in all homes regardless of type, including site-built, single-family homes, apartments, and manufactured housing.


Promoting universal design

In this policy: FederalLocalState

Policymakers should establish requirements or provide incentives for universal design features to be incorporated into homes.

Building codes: State and local governments should require that building codes incorporate universal design principles in newly constructed housing.

Remodeling: Where incentives are used to promote remodeling, regulations should encourage the incorporation of universal design features.

Visitability: Policymakers should require government-funded housing to have visitability and other features that provide a basic level of access and should remove legal restrictions that impede the adoption of related ordinances for newly constructed housing.

Technical assistance:  The Department of Housing and Urban Development should provide technical assistance to state and local governments to help implement and encourage the adoption of universal design and visitability features.