How to Make ADUs Accessible with the Power of Universal Design (2023)

Contents hide

1 Design Principles for Universal Design

1.1 1 Flexibility

1.2 2 Simple and Intuitive Use

1.3 3 Equitable Use

1.4 4 Perceptible Information

1.5 5 Tolerance for Error

1.6 6 Low Physical Effort

1.7 7 Size and Space for Approach and Use

2 Features of Universal Design for ADUs

2.1 Wide Doorways and Hallways

2.2 Zero-Step Entries

2.3 Lever Door Handles and Faucets

2.4 Non-Slip Flooring

2.5 Stair Design

2.6 Accessible Bathroom Features

3 Additional Considerations for Universal Design in ADUs

3.1 Flexibility in Furniture and Storage

3.2 Lighting

3.3 Acoustics

3.4 Temperature Control

4 Designing ADUs for Everyone

When constructing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their property, modern homeowners must factor in how to tailor the design of these spaces for a variety of users. To achieve this end, Universal Design is beneficial as it creates environments that are easy and functional to access regardless of age or physical ability. By considering Universal Design principles when designing ADUs, one can create living areas that cater safely and conveniently to individuals from all walks of life.

Read on to learn how to apply Universal Design principles in ADU design. We’ll discover particular elements such as wide doorways, zero-step entries, and non-slip flooring that can be implemented for improved accessibility and usability. Additionally, we will review further considerations from designers and builders when creating an ADU accommodating to all users’ needs.

Design Principles for Universal Design

In the 1990s, a team of architects, product designers, and environmental design researchers at North Carolina State University devised the Seven Principles of Universal Design – a vital guide for builders to ensure that their spaces are accessible and functional for people across all walks of life.

1 Flexibility

When designing an ADU bedroom, flexibility should be taken into consideration to satisfy a variety of individual preferences and abilities. For example, diverse furniture layouts ought to be incorporated that can easily adapt according to the needs of its residents.

2 Simple and Intuitive Use

The design of an ADU should be straightforward and user-friendly, so that anyone – regardless of their level of experience or knowledge – can use it with ease. Strategically placed signs and labels will assist users in navigating the space without frustration.

3 Equitable Use

The design must be practical and appealing to people of different abilities. This entails creating an ADU that is comfortable for all users, regardless of their physical capability.

4 Perceptible Information

To ensure that users can comprehend and act on necessary information, design should be built to accommodate all sensory abilities. For instance, employing vibrant colors on stairs could assist those with low vision in navigating the space safely and securely.

5 Tolerance for Error

To ensure safety, the design of this ADU should be created with minimal hazards and negative outcomes from unintended or accidental actions. This could include having more rounded corners and lines to minimize any potential harm inflicted on individuals.

6 Low Physical Effort

The design should offer optimal usability without causing discomfort or forcing the user to exert extra effort. For instance, a door handle in an ADU could be designed so that opening it demands minimum strength and energy.

7 Size and Space for Approach and Use

When creating an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), ample space is essential to make sure that users can easily reach all components, ensuring comfort when using the design. This involves building wide doorways and hallways so people with mobility devices have easy access.

How to Make ADUs Accessible with the Power of Universal Design (1)

Features of Universal Design for ADUs

To make Accessory Dwelling Units more accessible and practical for individuals with different abilities, Universal Design principles should be taken into account. For instance, here are some features that can be included in the design process:

Wide Doorways and Hallways

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) should be designed with wide doorways and hallways to easily accommodate anybody using mobility aids, like wheelchairs, scooters or walkers. It is suggested that a minimum doorway width of 32 inches and hallway width of 36 inches are employed for the best results.

Zero-Step Entries

To ensure easy access for all users, especially those with mobility devices, the entryway to an ADU should be equipped with zero-step entry and a ramp. This will help eliminate barriers and create greater accessibility for everyone.

Lever Door Handles and Faucets

Lever door handles and faucets provide an easier, more intuitive experience for those with limited mobility or hand strength and cognitive impairments. The simple design of the lever makes it a breeze to use, regardless of physical ability or age.

Non-Slip Flooring

ADUs should feature flooring that offers slip-protection and reliable traction, particularly in wet areas like bathrooms or kitchens to avoid falls and injuries.

Stair Design

To ensure a safe and accessible environment for all users, ADUs should contain stairs that have congruent riser heights, tread depths, and handrails on both sides. This makes it easy for individuals with reduced mobility to traverse the steps without fear of injury or difficulty.

Accessible Bathroom Features

To make an ADU bathroom more accessible for those with physical limitations, it should be outfitted with grab bars, non-slip flooring and a roll-in shower or bathtub complete with a built-in seat. These features will ensure safe use of the room for all users.

Additional Considerations for Universal Design in ADUs

Beyond instilling Universal Design into ADU design, designers and builders should proactively bear in mind further considerations to guarantee the space is fully accessible and operational for all occupants. To do this, they can consult with an accesibility expert to ensure that the space is truly accessible and functional for users with diverse abilities.

They can also consider these factors.

Flexibility in Furniture and Storage

Not only should designers strive to create spaces that are versatile, but they must also think about incorporating agile ADU furniture and storage instruments to meet the varying needs of occupants.


Bright lighting is essential not only for individuals with visual impairments, but also those with cognitive disabilities who can become lost within dimly-lit settings.


Sound can be troublesome for users with hearing or cognitive impairments. To address this, designers should think about incorporating sound-absorbing materials to eliminate echo and enhance sound quality.

Temperature Control

Temperature regulation is critical for people with sensory sensitivities or medical ailments that necessitate a certain temperature range. Invest in an uncomplicated thermostat that can guarantee consistent and reliable climate control.

Designing ADUs for Everyone

By adhering to Universal Design principles and incorporating corresponding features, homeowners can construct ADUs that are accessible for people of all ages and abilities. Not only will these living spaces guarantee access for everyone but also allow the flexibility to adapt to a variety of changing needs in the future. That way, your home is ready no matter what life throws at you.

It’s essential to recognize that Universal Design is not only about offering support for individuals with disabilities, but it also involves developing spaces that are more effortless and comfortable for everyone. Adopting these principles and features into ADU design will help construct a society of equity by producing more accessible housing stock.

As the demand for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) increases, it’s essential that designers and builders consider Universal Design principles to guarantee these residences are wholly accessible and functional. By being mindful of this approach when constructing ADUs, we can create living spaces that are tailored to a variety of user needs and abilities while promoting an inclusive community atmosphere. Reach out to Levi Design Build to get started on your ADU development today!


How to Make ADUs Accessible with the Power of Universal Design? ›

To ensure a safe and accessible environment for all users, ADUs should contain stairs that have congruent riser heights, tread depths, and handrails on both sides. This makes it easy for individuals with reduced mobility to traverse the steps without fear of injury or difficulty.

What is universal design in accessibility? ›

Universal Design: Access and Inclusion

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability (1).

What is an example of universal design for disabled people? ›

Things like curb cuts, large, color contrasting fonts, and sloped entrances are all examples of universal design. - Include Disability Services staff/students with disabilities on planning boards.

What are the important concepts in universal design theory? ›

Universally designed products accommodate individual preferences and abilities; communicate necessary information effectively (regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities); and can be approached, reached, manipulated, and used regardless of the individual's body size, posture, or mobility.

What is an example of perceptible information in universal design? ›

Perceptible Information

The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities. For example, a video includes a voiceover for individuals with visual impairments.

Is Universal accessibility the same as ADA? ›

ADA Accessibility

The big difference, compared to universal design, is that the ADA allows for segregation (i.e., design options for “people with disabilities” alongside options for “everyone else”).

What is the difference between ADA and universal design? ›

While Accessible Design is focused on the needs of people with disabilities, Universal Design considers the wide spectrum of human abilities. It aims to exceed minimum standards to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.

What is universal design for learning ADA? ›

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which originated from the architectural concept referring to designing environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptations or specialized design, allows instructors to design courses with every student in mind.

What is the best example of accessible design? ›

Whenever possible, products should be designed to meet the needs of people with differing physical abilities. In the built environment, one example of accessible design would be “curb cuts,” or ramps for wheelchair users. A sidewalk ramp.

What are universal design accommodations? ›

Universal Accommodations: Accommodations are changes in procedures, materials and tools used to increase equitable student access. These changes can be made so each student's needs can be met, and they can demonstrate their knowledge and skills in the course competencies.

What are the 3 characteristics of universal design? ›

Characteristics of any UD product or environment are that it is accessible, usable, and inclusive.

How would you make a product accessible to differently abled users? ›

Consider multiple modes of input, customization, adaptation, etc. For example, many accessibility requirements enable multiple modes of interaction for a digital experience through assistive technology, such as screen readers for people with visual impairments and Sip and Puff devices for people with motor impairments.

Why is universal accessibility important? ›

It caters to differing preferences, abilities, and learning styles. Also, it provides an adaptive environment that does not restrict functionality. Developing a space that everyone can access will help maximize the opportunity to help individuals who may require varying facilities or services.

Why are the 7 principles of universal design important? ›

Developed in 1997 by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, the '7 principles of universal design' aim to “guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments."

What are examples universal design at work? ›

Examples of Universal Design in the Workplace

Workstation and Storage - minimal glare; blinds or curtains on windows adjacent to workstation; adjustable chairs and workstations (ergonomic furniture); storage in range of reach for all employees; organizers and file folder storage on the desktop.

What makes design accessible? ›

Accessible design is a design process in which the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered. Accessibility sometimes refers to the characteristic that products, services, and facilities can be independently used by people with a variety of disabilities.

Is accessibility just another component of universal design? ›

Accessibility is just another component of universal design: inclusive design that allows all to use a service or product.

What is universal accessibility guidelines? ›

The Guidelines set out standards for achieving 'universal accessibility', i.e., every person irrespective of gender, age, caste, ability, health condition or socio-economic background will enjoy an equal opportunity to function independently and participate in society.

What is the main difference between assistive technology and universal design? ›

The main difference is that AT is designed to help individual students compensate for barriers in the curriculum, whereas UDL is about leveraging technology in curriculum design to prevent or reduce barriers.

What are two examples of universal design features? ›

Examples of universal design features are step-free entries, curb ramps, levers, wide doorways and handheld adjustable showerheads. Places designed for all ages and abilities are more flexible, efficient and comfortable. Properties with universal design often have higher value and longevity.

What are three types of ADA? ›

The ADA is divided into four main sections, which are called Titles: Title I covers employment; Title II covers public entities and public transportation; Title III covers public accommodations and commercial facilities; and Title IV covers telecommunications.

What are the 3 principles of UDL? ›

CAST developed UDL guidelines that are based on three main principles that align with these learning networks. The three UDL principles are engagement, representation, and action and expression.

What are the four components of universal design for learning? ›

Four highly interrelated components comprise a UDL curriculum: goals, methods, materials, and assessments.

What are the 4 characteristics of accessible design? ›

The Four Principles of Accessibility
  • Perceivable. Starting at the most basic level, users must be able to process information. ...
  • Operable. People with disabilities need to be able to operate websites and applications with a variety of tools. ...
  • Understandable. ...
  • Robust.
Jul 6, 2015

Is a common example of universal design? ›

One of the most common examples of universal design, and one that you probably use every day, is the sidewalk ramp, or curb cut. A curb cut is essential for people using wheelchairs, but it also benefits kids riding bikes, seniors using walkers, parents pushing strollers, and delivery people pulling heavy dollies.

How do you practice universal design? ›

The seven principles of universal design are: Equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use.

How do you use universal design? ›

7 Universal Design for Learning Examples and Strategies for the Classroom
  1. Know your students' strengths and barriers. ...
  2. Use digital materials when possible. ...
  3. Share content in a variety of ways. ...
  4. Offer choices for how students demonstrate their knowledge. ...
  5. Take advantage of software supports. ...
  6. Low and No Tech options do exist.
Dec 6, 2022

What makes something universal design? ›

Universal design means planning to build physical, learning and work environments so that they are usable by a wide range of people, regardless of age, size or disability status. While universal design promotes access for individuals with disabilities, it also benefits others.

How do you ensure accessibility and inclusivity in your designs? ›

Inclusive Design and Accessibility Guidelines
  1. Organise content in a logical order that makes sense for users who tab through content.
  2. Ensure headings stand out and that each section has its own heading.
  3. Ensure links make sense out of context and are front-loaded for screen readers.
May 12, 2021

What are accessibility strategies? ›

Accessibility strategy is the plan that a company has that outlines and describes the steps to be undertaken in order to make the site accessible.

How do you create an accessible environment? ›

Making the working environment accessible
  1. changes to the employee's working pattern, e.g. later starts or flexitime.
  2. making physical alterations to their place of work, e.g. widening of doorways to allow wheelchair access.
  3. modifying or acquiring equipment, e.g. text phones for the deaf or hard of hearing.

What are three reasons for designing for accessibility? ›

Here's four reasons for championing accessible design best practices:
  1. It's the right thing to do—both morally and ethically. ...
  2. It's a legal requirement. ...
  3. It's good business. ...
  4. It makes for better design.
Apr 26, 2023

What is benefit of universal design? ›

Universal Design creates inclusive design solutions and promotes accessibility and usability, allowing people with all levels of ability to live independently. The ability of a person to remain as independent as possible can be influenced by how accessible and usable products, services and environments are.

Why designing for accessibility helps everyone? ›

Accessibility focuses On users with disabilities to perceive, interact, understand, and navigate any technology so they can contribute and use the opportunities and information equally. Designing for accessibility will not only help people with disabilities but also people without disabilities.

What is universal design in UI UX? ›

What is universal design? Universal design describes a set of considerations made to ensure that a product, service, and/or environment is usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

What is an example of universal design in public spaces? ›

Universal design serves all ages and abilities by standardizing features such as wider sidewalks that are clear of obstructions, benches, no-step entryways, ramps, wider doorways and hallways, as well as by providing specialized features such as ADA pool access equipment.

Is universal design a good design? ›

By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples' needs. Simply put, universal design is good design.

What is the universal design for learning ADA? ›

Universal Design for Learning (UDL), which originated from the architectural concept referring to designing environments to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptations or specialized design, allows instructors to design courses with every student in mind.

What is accessibility adaptability and universal design? ›


Accessible, adaptable, and universal are terms now used to refer to housing or features in housing intended for use by people with disabilities and others.


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