Universal Design in Wheelchair Accessible Homes


The Principles of Universal Design applied to wheelchair accessible housing

 According to the NC State Center for Universal Design (CUD), Universal Home design follows seven principles:

  1. Principle One: Equitable Use:  The house can be used and would be desirable by someone in a wheelchair as well as someone not in a wheelchair.  It is not simply a "handicapped home", "a house for the disabled" or a home with a wheelchair ramp slapped on the outside.

  2. Principle Two: Flexibility in Use:  The home is useable by a wide range of people.  The home lends itself to being used by the disabled as well as non disabled.  Someone who walks or is in a wheelchair, scooter, or other mobility device.

  3. Principle Three: Simple and intuitive:  The home features are simple and easy to use and can be accessed by someone in a wheelchair and cognitively disabled. 

  4. Principle Four: Perceptible Information:  The home provides information to the user that is easily understood including cognitively disabled. 

  5. Principle Five: Tolerance for Error:  The home design prevents or minimizes accidents if something goes wrong.  The home takes into account that someone in a power chair or scooter could be using the home and the design minimizes hazards and potentially dangerous situations.  Home design minimizes falls.

  6. Principle Six: Low Physical Effort:  The house utilizes features that make it easy to use with little physical effort.  The home can be used comfortably by someone in a wheelchair. 

  7. Principle Seven: Size and Space for Approach and Use:  The house is easy for someone in a wheelchair to access all areas and operate appliances. 

Universal Design is about designing and building all homes with at least a minimum number of essential accessible features.  This is a more efficient use of resources and allows people with disabilities to continue to live in their communities and visit others.  Universal Design also minimizes the expense of wheelchair accessibility features.  There is surprisingly little initial construction cost differences in a wheelchair accessible home and one that is not wheelchair accessible when.  Most of the cost difference is in setting up the lot and the appropriate grading for a home with no stairs.  It is however, very expensive to upgrade a home that was not built to be wheelchair accessible to make it so after the fact. 

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Features of a Universally Designed Wheelchair Accessible Home


Entrances to the Home

Stepless Entrances

Ideally all entrances to the home are stepless.  At a minimum at least one entrance is stepless in addition to stepless entrances that lead to a deck or patio and garage.  A maximum rise at entrance threshold of 1/2 inch.  Ample space on both sides of the entrance of at least 5' x 5' to allow for maneuvering of a wheelchair or scooter.  All entrance door widths should be a minimum of 34" wide for wheelchair accessibility. 

Other Entrance Features

The use of ramps is avoided but if they must be used then the design of the ramp is pleasingly integrated into the overall architecture and design of the home, i.e. don't slap on a wheelchair ramp as an afterthought.  The home site will have appropriate sloping for foundation waterproofing but walkways will not have a greater slope than 1:20 (1 foot of raise for every 20 feet of run).  Visitors at the home's entrances and home owners should be able to easily communicate with each other.  This can be accomplished using a combination of doorbell, intercom device, and/or video equipment.  All entrances should be well lit, visible, and protected from the elements. 

Garages and Car Ports

The door height and garage headroom should accommodate a tall vehicle such as a wheelchair accessible full size van with raised roof/raised doors.  The garage should have adequate space to allow for garaging the vehicle, deploying of a platform lift or ramp, and maneuvering of a person around the vehicle in their wheelchair, scooter, or mobility device.  The garage utilizes power and not manually operated doors.  The car port, car parking area, and garage should all be at the same level of the home so that the vehicle does the climbing up to the house and not the person who will be walking, riding in their wheelchair or scooter, or using a mobility device. 



At least one wheelchair accessible bathroom is located on the wheelchair accessible ground floor entrance level.

This bathroom should have the following features:



Switches and Controls

Interior Layout 



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