Universal Design Principles & Examples

Universal Methods of Design for Accessibility

Universal design concepts are architectural and interior decorating principles that emphasize accessibility regardless of age or physical disability. Whether you’re decorating an entertainment room or designing an accessible workplace, using universal design to plan your home or office gives everyone the benefit of a comfortable, user-friendly layout.

By applying universal design principles to your home, you can select furniture and decor that’s simple and easy to use for family and guests.

Overview

Want to make your home more accessible on a broader scale? Universal design in interior design for homes and workplaces offers chic, comfortable layouts suitable for the whole family. Read more about the concept so you can:

What Is Meant By 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 accessible public spaces and services for those with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) offers guidelines to ensure public facilities are ADA compliant. In terms of large-scale design, ADA accessible spaces often use open-concept floor plans that help wheelchair users maneuver in and out of rooms and hallways.

On a smaller scale, designers may opt for lever handles over doorknobs, so people with physical issues have fewer problems opening doors.
On a smaller scale, designers may opt for lever handles over doorknobs, so people with physical issues have fewer problems opening doors.

We see universal design examples 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. Universal design examples in the home range from grab bars and handrails in bathrooms to wide hallways that accommodate motorized scooters.

What Are The 7 Factors of Universal Design?

When putting this concept into practice, there are several accessibility factors to use as a guide. These elements can affect multiple aspects of a building’s layout, including doorframe and hallway sizes, as well as bathroom faucets and furnishings. The seven principles of universal design are:

Equitable Use

When choosing your living room design and decor, furnishings should be useful to as many people as possible. If you have a family member living with you who has different needs, pay close attention to their bedroom design, too. Likewise, inclusive office spaces require some universal method of design when it comes to furniture and decor.

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. Dressers and nightstands with chunky square or wide drawer pulls are also examples of universal design, as knobs can be difficult to grasp for those with arthritis or hand mobility issues.

Many bedroom sets, like the one pictured here, include user-friendly drawer pulls, bench seating and other accessible features.
Many bedroom sets, like the one pictured here, include user-friendly drawer pulls, bench seating and other accessible features.

Flexibility in Use

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

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 that 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. Using visual, audible and tactile methods to deliver a message helps kids and adults understand instructions or directions, so they feel more welcome.

Bean bag chairs, puzzle toys and plush rugs often benefit kids with sensory difficulties.
Bean bag chairs, puzzle toys and plush rugs often benefit kids with sensory difficulties.

Tolerance for Error

Tolerance for error accounts for potential accidents and minimizes hazards to prevent injury or harm. Applying this principle may mean placing shower grips and non-slip mats in the bathroom to avoid slips and falls. Include fail-safes in your own design by anticipating common issues, such as choosing remote-controlled lift chairs that will function during a power outage.

Growing children like to explore and start doing things for themselves like dressing for school or making their beds. Small kids have a hard time reaching clothes in their dressers or chests, which is why designers who make furniture for kids recommend anchoring items like dressers and bookcases to the wall and the floor to keep them from tipping over.

Kids' furnishings often have heavier bases to prevent tipping or interlocking drawers to avoid pinched fingers.
Kids' furnishings often have heavier bases to prevent tipping or interlocking drawers to avoid pinched fingers.

Some people have unique health, safety and comfort needs, and changing how you clean is one universal design example for the home that anyone can try. Something as simple as opting for green cleaning products instead of harsh cleansers to maintain your furniture may prevent allergic reactions in children and adults with skin sensitivities.

Low Physical Effort

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

Lift chairs assist individuals with getting into and out of seated positions.
Lift chairs assist individuals with getting into and out of seated positions.

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. For example, dense pile runners or area rugs may be hard to maneuver across or cause tripping. Be sure to leave adequate floor space open to make navigation around beds easier for those who use wheelchairs, walkers or other assistance devices.

Choosing lightweight furniture in universal designs makes it easy to rearrange spaces to accommodate each guest's particular needs.
Choosing lightweight furniture in universal designs makes it easy to rearrange spaces to accommodate each guest's particular needs.

In the living room, c-shaped accent tables or cocktail ottomans provide surfaces to keep drinks and other items within reach. TV stands and consoles also have cut-outs that provide built-in organization for wires and cords to avoid potential fire hazards and prevent trip and fall injuries.

Opting for open cubbies rather than drawers lets people access items without barriers, while cut-outs for cord organization keep wires from becoming tripping hazards.
Opting for open cubbies rather than drawers lets people access items without barriers, while cut-outs for cord organization keep wires from becoming tripping hazards.

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 supportive multiple height seating or panel light switches rather than toggles.
  • 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: Incorporates 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.
Features like adjustable bed bases and mattresses help individuals feel better and more independent when carrying out daily activities.
Features like adjustable bed bases and mattresses help individuals feel better and more independent when carrying out daily activities.

Misconceptions of Accessible Design

Many people believe universal design is a “one size fits all” decorating approach or that only professionals can create a stylish yet accessible space. In reality, universal methods of design include customizable features so that all people can use the space independently, and anybody can incorporate universal design principles into their home or office. Universal design is:

  • A Process: Universal design is far from perfect and can only get close to 100% accessibility when people learn about the current and evolving needs of a wide range of people. Highly accessible products or services for all is the ultimate goal of universal design.
  • All about Integration: While decorating your home or furnishing an office space, universal design methods are most effective when integrated through every step of the process rather than at the end.
  • Open to All Designers: Any homeowner, architect or CEO can achieve a universally designed space. Start by focusing on the people who use the layout and take time to fully understand their needs before beginning your blueprint for accessibility.
  • Stylish and Accessible: Made with function in mind, universally designed products also have a stylish appearance that works in harmony with use. The usability of a piece of furniture often instantly raises its aesthetic value, making it more attractive to users.
  • Beneficial for Everyone: Universal design is an approach that benefits everyone regardless of age, size, ability or disability. From temporary medical injuries or height differences to just unfamiliarity with a product or place, accessibility should be easy, and equal, for everyone.
Universal designs help create inclusive spaces for everyone, regardless of differences in ability.
Universal designs help create inclusive spaces for everyone, regardless of differences in ability.

Universal design makes office spaces accessible to all employees, creates user-friendly products and helps you decorate a home that welcomes guests and supports your family through life’s changes. Whether you’re improving an original layout or starting from scratch, incorporating universal design principles into your home or office helps ensure an accessible environment for all.