Designing for Accessibility


First, a word about laws, programs, and philosophy. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a law that specifies standards of accessibility for public buildings. It does not regulate private dwellings, but some of its guidelines serve as a good starting place for designing an accessible home.

Aging in Place is a concept aimed at making homes hospitable to an owner’s changing needs as they age, intending to allow them to remain comfortably at home as long as possible. The NAHB has a certificate course called the Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) program, of which Bruce and Tyler are both graduates.

Universal Design is a broad design philosophy that aims at making built environments easier to use and navigate for users of all ages and abilities while at the same time not requiring every building to look like a hospital. It encompasses the accessibility of the ADA and the ideas behind Aging in Place, but goes beyond them both. We are students of Universal Design.

Recommended Resources

Our Basic Recommendations

When you are building a custom home, you can make use of whichever and however many of the ideas from the ADA, Aging in Place, and Universal Design you want. If you have existing needs, we would highly recommend that you get a list of specific recommendations for present and future needs from an occupational therapist. (If needed, we can refer you to one that has experience working with home design). If you just wish to make your home more accessible against future possibilities, we can make some basic recommendations that will lay an excellent foundation that you can build on now or later. We encourage you to always consider incorporating universal design ideas when designing rooms or choosing products from our vendors. Keep in mind that choosing these options now may cost very little, whereas the cost of achieving them later can be very expensive. These would include the following:

Reduce Barriers

  • Pour garage, porches, and sidewalks without steps
  • Use ADA thresholds on exterior doors
  • Use 3′ doors inside wherever accessibility is desired
  • Ensure space requirements are met in hallways, on the latch end of the hinged side of a door, in rooms, etc
  • Use a curbless shower

Increase Convenience

  • Use lever style door hardware
  • Use single handle plumbing fixtures
  • Use rocker light switches instead of toggle
  • Use LED light bulbs with sufficient wattage and appropriate temperature for different areas and tasks.
  • Use comfort height toilets (17″+)
  • Lower light switches
  • Raise receptacles