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Introduction to Universal Housing Design
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Introduction to Universal Housing Design
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Utah DSPD Complaint List Winter 2011

What is Universal Housing?

Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. -Ron Mace



   Currently there is no legislation regulating accessible or universal housing design for single family dwellings. Unfortunately the Fair Housing Act (FHA) only addresses multiple housing units and does nothing to promote the same standards for single family homes. This means the Fair Housing Act only addresses housing provided in apartment complexes, designated group homes and other “public” types of housing. This is not to be confused with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was originally designed for public and commercial spaces. Again, nothing is said about single family dwellings. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
  Given there is no specific standard for single family home construction most architects, drafters, and builders will reference both the FHA and the ADA for basic standards but these cannot be enforced by municipalities as single family dwellings were not included in either act in their present form. This makes finding an accessible home a big problem for families with disabled family members or who would like to age in place without large remodels later on. As of this writing there are no proposed amendments or legislation addressing single family dwellings in sight.
  While inroads have been made by the construction industry regarding accessible/universal home design there is still a long way to go before the general public is able to find  truly accessible housing without a great deal of difficulty. Current thought among most builders seems to be if a home has a bathroom and kitchen that meets commercial ADA standards, has an exterior ramp and a wide front door; the home must be wheelchair accessible.

  Current home-building trends are turning more toward building homes with at least a few basic accessible features. Many builders are now adding at least one ADA qualified bathroom, ground level entries and a wider entry door. While this is a step in the right direction builders and designers seem to have forgotten that people with disabilities don’t spend all their time in the bathroom or the kitchen. They want to be able to access the rest of the house as well. There are many additional features that can easily be added to new housing plans with minimal cost to the consumer.



SNRP highly recommends the North Caroline State University College of Design web site for individuals who would like to study Universal Design principles in more detail. Further information may be found at the link listed below:


How Do I know What I Need?

  If you are unsure of what types of changes will need to be made or equipment you will require, an evaluation by a Rehabilitation specialist trained in housing accessibility may be very helpful in assisting you identify features that could be upgraded. If you are applying for assistance programs for remodeling or updating your current home a Rehabilitation evaluation is an absolute must. An assessment of your current housing situation with a list of limitations and pit falls with recommended changes and upgrades for new housing is key. This letter of recommendations will be the foundation for shopping for new housing, applying for grants, HUD loans, ordering equipment, working with a contractor etc. Your physician may also use this letter as a reference when writing prescriptions for equipment ordered through a medical equipment company, which may also be paid for by your insurance company. Once you know what you need, you can then begin to look at your options.

   Whether you are renting, purchasing existing construction or building a new home from the ground up there are several specific features to be on the look out for.

1.  An easily accessible, safe, approach to the main entrance. Either a gently sloping sidewalk or ground level porch. Covered and out of the weather is preferred.

2.  A wide front doorway a minimum of 36 inches wide. Paddle/lever handles are easier to grasp and manipulate.

3.  Interior doorways and hallways must be navigable. Interior doors should also be 36 inches wide, when possible

4.  At least one bathroom must be accessible. A wheelchair turn space and room for a care assistant should be built into the room. Add a curb-less shower, handheld shower head and lower faucet controls for ease of use.

5. Kitchens should have the minimum ADA required turn around space and accessible counter tops and cooking surfaces. Lower cabinets and open shelving add to the accessibility of the space. A lower wall oven and a drawer dishwasher will also increase ease of use in the space.

6.  Bedrooms must have enough room for a bed, dresser and space for any equipment that may be needed by the individual. Allow room for a wheelchair or walker to be placed within reach from the bed. Install an intercom near the bed if needed to call for help during the night.

7. Light switches and plugs should be easy to reach for all occupants. Plug sockets should be raised to between 25-27 inches from the floor with light switches at 40 inches.

8. Minimize the number of transitions between types of flooring and the use of carpet. This will decrease the number of trip hazards in the home as well as frequent replacing costly carpet. If carpet is a must, stick with a low pile and use as little as possible.

9. Handles and faucets. Paddle, or lever, style handles are excellent replacements for door knobs. Simple pressure with a fist or an elbow will serve to open the door. Same for faucet handles in the kitchen and the bathroom. Drawer pulls should be "U" shaped to allow for a simple "hook" with stiff fingers.

It is important that to note that most spaces will need to be accessible to more than just one family member at a time. Quite often special needs individuals will have Home Health Aides, Respite Providers and other family members assisting them at various times during the day. Especially children. Everyone needs to be able to safely use all spaces within the home.

True Universal Home Design is building design that EVERY member of the household, regardless of ability, is able to access every square inch of the space and not be impeded in the process.