Inclusive Housing - Universal Design and Visitability
What is Visitability?
A visitable home is one designed in a way that anyone is able to come for a visit, regardless of physical ability. A visitable design removes the common barriers that prevent persons of all abilities from visiting the homes of their friends, neighbors, and family. Making a home visitable is simple and costs little or nothing, what it really calls for is a change of mindset: think of the whole population when designing a home. The minimum requirements for a home to qualify as visitable are:
1. There is at least one no-step entrance;
2. There is a bathroom on the ground floor; and
3. Each doorway on the main floor has a minimum of 32-inches of clear space.
However, those are just the minimum standards to visitability. To make a home even more visitor friendly it should have a bedroom on the ground floor, and outlets and switches at a reachable height.
For more on visitability see
“Accessibility and Visitability Features in Single-family Homes: A Review of State and Local Activity Report"
Concrete Change is an international advocacy effort to make all homes visitable.
The Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center on Universal Design (RERC UD) has a listing of visitability initiatives across the nation as well as a visitability booklet and on-line tutorial.
What is Universal Design?
“Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
–Ron Mace, founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University
Universal Design in housing is more than visitability; it is adaptability and usability. Instead of thinking of the whole population as visitors, it calls for housing designers to think of the whole population as occupants. A universally designed house is visitable as well as adaptable to anyone who may live in the home. Common features of a universally designed house are:
1. At least one stepless entrance;
2. An open plan design (minimizes hallways and doorways and maximizes sight lines);
3. At least one bedroom and accessible bathroom on the ground floor;
4. Each door has a minimum of 32-inches of clear space;
5. Five feet diameter turning space in all rooms (including bathroom);
6. Hallways and archways at least 42 inches wide;
7. All stairs should be adaptable to a lift if necessary, and have handrails that extend beyond the top and bottom risers; and
8. At least one bathroom with accessible bathing features such as a curbless shower, and all bathrooms with reinforcements built in for grab bars if they need to be installed.
Links for more information on Universal Design
The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University is the leading organization on Universal Design. The site is a comprehensive resource on Universal Design offering research, information, technical assistance, design ideas, links to additional resources, and more.
“Residential Remodeling and Universal Design: Making Homes More Comfortable and Accessible” an article available from HUD (large file) with pictures and instructions showing how to make a home Universally Designed. It gives examples of features of Universal Design for the whole home, ranging from the most basic to the most extensive.
This is the Universal Design main page for the AARP website with links to information about Universal Design and ideas, tips and checklists to make your home’s design safe and barrier free.
Take virtual tours of homes built with Universal Design features on this AARP page.
A website for Universal Design home plans and products.
Rehabilitation Engineering and Research Center on Universal Design (RERC UD) at Buffalo has news and information on its research towards the advancement of Universal Design.