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What is Universal Design?

Easiest way to remember Universal Design is "UD = EZ for the most people". Commercially, Universal Design, abbreviated UD, has been around for decades (e.g. Velcro, electric toothbrush, automatic doors to retail stores) but North Carolina State's College of Design first introduced UD for the home in 1997.

I begin this series of posts about Universal Design for the home (also referred to as "barrier-free living") by defining as features, methods and applications easily used by any person of any age or ability. Think kid-friendly or flexible enough to be accomplished or enjoyed either seated or standing. For example, most people can get through a wide doorway or hallway, or enter a shower or doorway without a raised threshold. Most people can use motion-activated lights or a lever door handle.

If you remember ONLY ONE thing, recall UD = EZ for every aspect of a property both inside and outside.

As it pertains to design and construction and the following tutorials, UD can be both a feature (e.g. zero step entry, curb-less shower, wider doorways) or application/method (e.g. height of outlets/switches, removal of tripping hazards, color contrasts to warn or cue).

I emphasize that UD in custom building or remodeling is NOT a reinvention of standard construction techniques; it's "special" only in its proactive approach for not doing things the same old way. UD is flexible and allows for margin of error.

Did you know that many things in home building are completed "just because" that's the way it's always been done? Taught from one generation to the next without a real reason. For instance, building a zero-step entry isn't rocket science; it's simply NOT building steps and determining a different WAY of implementing a zero clearance entry (e.g. moving dirt, lowering the foundation, access via a garage, etc.) So it's nothing fancy or necessarily innovative (although it can be), practicing UD merely involves forethought of the long term, a different way of solving a standard problem (getting to the second floor) or meeting a typical goal (access). At BuilderFish, we call it "thinking mans construction" and we're passionate about ensuring comfort, convenience and control for owners who want a "home for a lifetime".

The following posts will give you ideas and alternatives around your property, starting curbside, including how you can plan and improve accessibility, because you first have to get TO the door before you can get THROUGH the door.

And remember UD = EZ !

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President Todd Hawkins preaches building science and Universal Design (UD) to teach the benefits of an efficient, convenient, comfortable and flexible Lifetime Home. Also follow him on Twitter @BuilderFish for short tips about how kid-friendly UD makes home life easier and more secure for any person of any age or ability.