Whether you're drawing up building blueprints or decorating an entertainment room, it is important to plan a layout to suit many different kinds of people. Universal design concepts ensure that homes and businesses can be accessible to everyone, regardless of age or disabilities.

We see many examples of universal design in our communities every day. Features such as automatic doors, elevators and sidewalk curb cuts allow people who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices to navigate public areas. By applying these same principles to your home, you can select furniture and decor that's simple and easy to use for family and guests.

Understanding Universal Design

During the civil and human rights movements of the 20th century, disability rights activists advocated for inclusivity, independent living and access to community buildings. As a result, the government passed anti-discrimination laws and legislation on building codes and guidelines to ensure that all people could use these spaces.

The Disability Act of 2005 requires that public spaces and services are accessible to those with disabilities. In terms of large-scale design, access may mean open-concept floor plans that help wheelchair users maneuver in and out of rooms and hallways. At the micro-level, designers may opt for lever handles over doorknobs, so people with physical issues have fewer problems opening doors.

challock beige accent cabinet
Challock Beige Accent Cabinet

Benefits of Universal Design

In addition to showing respect for employees and visitors with disabilities, using universal design in your home or business comes with several perks. Barrier-free spaces serve people equally, giving your company a competitive edge over others. These designs also adapt readily to future changes in your home. Other benefits include:

  • Inclusivity: Ensures that all people are welcome and comfortable, which involves choosing inclusive items like panel light switches rather than toggles or supportive multiple height seating.
  • Adaptive Flexibility: Includes design elements that accommodate a wide range of disabilities as well as furnishings such as adjustable seats that respond to the needs of the individual.
  • Safety: Allows guests and customers to safely enter and enjoy the space.
  • Increased Satisfaction: Involves approaches like decorating with sensory-friendly furniture and decor to limit overstimulation and provide a calm, peaceful setting.
  • Increased Independence: Provides helpful and functional features that allow visitors to perform tasks on their own.

Seven Principles of Universal Design

When putting this concept into practice, there are several universal design principles designers should follow. These elements can affect several aspects of a building's layout, including doorframe and hallway sizes, bathroom faucets, and furnishings. The 7 principles of design are:

Equitable Use

When choosing your living room design and decor, furnishings should be useful to as many people as possible. For instance, dimmable light fixtures allow you to make a room bright enough for someone who is visually impaired or soft enough for people sensitive to harsh lighting. Also, dressers with square drawer-pulls work best for those with arthritis or mobility issues.

diamond falls gray dresser
Diamond Falls Gray Dresser

Flexibility in Use

Offices can create productive workspaces that also accommodate people with disabilities as well as older employees. Trying different home office designs allows you to accomplish this goal. Spacious desks put documents and work supplies within reach for easy access, while adjustable desk chairs offer comfortable support.

jessamin gray desk
Jessamin Gray Desk

Simple and Intuitive Use

Each part of the building's layout should be easy to understand, regardless of a person's abilities, language skills or experience. Use images to illustrate the use of elevators and automatic doors or to designate accessible parking spots and bathrooms, so all people can navigate the space, regardless of language barriers or learning disabilities.

Perceptible Information

When creating playrooms for children, label the sections and functions of the space using artwork, so that all kids, including children with autism or learning disabilities, can use the area without confusion or distraction.

little partners natural tri side learn and play art center
Little Partners Natural Tri Side Learn and Play Art Center

Tolerance for Error

Tolerance for error accounts for potential accidents and minimizes hazards to prevent them. Applying this principle may mean placing shower grips and non-slip mats in the bathroom to avoid slips and falls. Many designers include fail-safes to anticipate common issues, such as choosing remote-controlled lift chairs that work in the event of a power outage.

Low Physical Effort

Furniture should require little to no effort on the part of the user. Electric recliners and lift chairs assist those with a limited range of motion to sit and stand without strain. Choosing low bed frames makes it easier for people to shift their bodies or climb in and out of bed, too.

narin gray lift chair power recliner
Narin Gray Lift Chair Power Recliner

Size and Space for Approach and Use

It is important to arrange the design so people can access what they need regardless of their body size, posture or mobility. Adjustable beds give sleepers the ability to grab water glasses and books from their bedside tables while lying down. In the living room, set up accent tables and ottomans near the sofa where guests can reach them from a seated position.

sealy premium sunset key split king mattress with adjustable base
Sealy Premium Sunset Key Split King Mattress with Adjustable Base