UDCP: Top 10 Universal Design Features

by Kacey Larsen
NARI recertification credits

Universal design—a design philosophy with broad appeal but limited application—can be found in aging-in-place programs, design for all and barrier-free concepts. While the American Disabilities Act relies on universal design concepts, there are many differences. Fundamentally, universal design seeks to provide an accessible space regardless of the resident’s abilities or disabilities. There is also a desire for the space to maintain the essential elements of good design. This article discusses 10 of the top universal design features that may be found or applied in a residential remodeling project; features you apply will depend on your client’s needs and abilities.


  • Low- or no-threshold shower: It allows a client access to the shower and removes trip hazards. While a low- or no-threshold shower can be challenging to install, particularly on a slab foundation, your clients will appreciate it.
  • Comfort-height toilets: These fixtures are commonplace and available from all manufacturers. Comfort-height toilets are no more difficult to install than a standard toilet.
  • Grab bars:A basic safety item,grab bars have been around a long time, and the selection of stylish products is growing. Position them at the entrance to tubs, showers and toilets.
  • Shower seats: Once thought to be too medical for mainstream bathrooms, shower seats are now a requested feature. They can be built- in or installed to fold. You can find shower seats that are freestanding and made of metal, plastic or teak.


  • Touch- or proximity-controlled faucets: Once found in only commercial spaces, these fixtures are making inroads to the home. They are ideal for clients who have strength or hand control issues, as well as the cook who has dirty hands and needs to wash up.
  • Raised dishwasher: Standard-size dishwashers can be raised to improve accessibility, or you can use smaller dishwasher drawers and install them just under the countertop for those with back issues or challenged by bending and reaching. A dishwasher drawer also allows for a lowered countertop if needed.
  • Pull-out shelving: Sliding shelves on the bottom and middle of cabinets enable full access to stowage space. Consider the challenge of getting on your knees and searching the bottom/back of the cabinet. Pullouts make that space far easier to access and, more likely, the space will be fully utilized.


  • Lever door handles: These are required for clients with hand strength issues; they are also great for use if your hands are full and you need to open the door. Lever door handles are available from most manufacturers in a variety of styles and finishes.
  • No-threshold entries: We typically think of these as a ramp only when your client is in a wheelchair. Think again: Your client could be just starting a family with children in strollers or may have grandchildren. Anyone who has tried guiding a stroller with children and a bag full of groceries into a house knows strollers and steps are not friends. Make it easy for anyone to access the home and put in a zero-step, no-threshold entry.


  • Motion-sensing light switches: Not only is it an energy-saving device, but a motion-sensing light switch operates light without the need to “turn” it on. It knows when your client has entered the room and, as a bonus, when he/she leaves the room, it turns off after a set delay.


  • Remote monitoring and control of the main entryway: This is new on the list. With a camera and a wireless lockset, your clients can see who is at the door, talk to them and unlock the door all from the comfort of their living room or even from across the country. To set these up, you may need to work with an integrator or a security-monitoring system installer, but for the right client they will be just the ticket.


The following products are just coming to market, and you may find your clients asking about them:

  • Automatic door openers: Think of “Star Trek”—you approach the door and it opens for you, and then it closes afterward.
  • Automatic cooktop shutoffs: These devices monitor the cooktop, and if they sense the burner has been on and unattended for a period of time, they shut off the gas or electricity.

This is just an overview of the features that drive the world of universal design. New products are released every year that help clients live in their homes more comfortably and enable increased access for those with disabilities. It is important to remember that universal design is not just for clients with disabilities; it is design for all of us.|QR


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