Pull-out storage shelves and easy grip handles make life easier in this universally designed kitchen.
Pull-out storage shelves and easy grip handles make life easier in this universally designed kitchen.

Embedding choice in all facets of design so that homes work for people across a wide spectrum of age and abilities is the way Takoma Park, Md., architect John Salmen, who specializes in universal design, likes to explain the design philosophy.

This is how it plays out in the home:

Entrances

• Use flat thresholds to reduce tripping hazards and create accessibility for occupants who use a wheelchair or walker. A mere quarter-inch change in elevation is enough to create a tripping hazard.

• Gently slope walkways that connect entrances to the street, mitigating the need for ramps. 

• Put package shelves at entrances and use 3-foot-wide doorways for ease of access for both exterior and interior doors.

Kitchens

• Put countertops at multiple levels. A 30-inch counter allows users the option of sitting to perform tasks. 

• Use both open and pull-down shelving.

• Upper cabinets mounted slightly lower (14 inches from counter to bottom of the cabinet rather than the typical 18 inches) make it easier to reach higher shelves.

• High toe-kicks on base cabinets allow wheelchair users to move in closer to work surfaces.

• D-ring or loop pulls on cabinets rather than knobs and soft-close mechanisms on drawers simplify operation for users.

• Touch-operated faucets are user-friendly.

Bathrooms

• No-threshold showers and adjustable showerheads on a vertical slider ease access.

• Blocking behind shower walls supports the addition of support bars and seats when needed.

• Open space beneath counters permits seated access.

Home comfort

• Storage at the point of use throughout the house.

• Wide corridors that are well-lit make it easier to get around, as does LED lighting at knee height outside bedrooms and bathrooms.

• Stack closets for the eventual addition of an elevator, if desired.

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