8 Simple Ways to Incorporate Universal Design

Universal design is often mistaken for catering to an aging demographic, in part because of its focus on accessibility. Features such as grab bars and wider doorways may be common, but the principle of universal design is applicable to buyers of any demographic. "True universal design is something you don’t notice until you realize the benefits of using it," states Manny Gonzalez, FAIA, Managing Principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning. "It’s about making living easier for anyone of any age and any ability." This includes everyone from baby boomers seeking age-qualified housing to millennials starting new families. Universal design doesn’t need to be over the top, either, to be effective. There are a lot of little things that developers can do, he notes, that go a long way toward creating a home that is more comfortable and convenient:
  1. Incorporating handles that are easy to grip so drawers and doors are easier to open
  2. Installing windows that are easy to operate
  3. Designing wider doorways that are easier to navigate (whether for a wheelchair or carting playpens from room to room)
  4. Installing proper lighting within the unit to make it easier to see
  5. Placing duplex outlets with light switches in hallways so residents can plug in a vacuum without having to bend over or increase visibility with a nightlight
  6. Incorporating colors that provide a contrast, especially for troublesome areas such as wall corners and countertops
  7. Making appliances such as microwaves more accessible and not placing them above hot spaces, such as the range
  8. Using sliding doors or barn doors for closets and/or bathrooms that can remain open without impeding space
Simple updates such as these can be cost-effective, too, when planned in advance. "Universal design doesn’t have to cost anymore upfront if you think about it ahead of time and incorporate those good ideas into your design from the beginning," Gonzalez shares. "They’re harder to retrofit though and will cost more in the after-market." Other key factors to consider include connectivity and how to incorporate technology for both added convenience and energy savings. Smart devices to help control lighting, water efficiency, and indoor air quality and temperature allow owners to focus on the total wellness of their homes — and this can be beneficial for landlords in the multifamily market as well. Gonzalez will share more helpful universal design tips during an upcoming webinar, "Rethinking Universal Design," on Wednesday, Nov. 13, at 2 p.m. ET. Registration is free is Multifamily Council, Housing Credit Group and 55+ Housing Industry Council members. Register by Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 3 p.m. ET to reserve your spot.  

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