23 Ways You Can Benefit From Universal Design

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… It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. 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.  -The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design

There is a growing awareness of the value of Universal Design, to the extent that it’s principles are being applied in more and more design projects.  It has less to do with the need to address a special design requirement, and more to do with inclusion of all users of the space and planning for the long term.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design

The principles when incorporated well support functionality while remaining nearly invisible.  So a space can be award winning in the areas of innovation, beauty and functionality, and unknowingly be universally designed.

To design universally means to not only consider the circumstances of the present and coming year, but to consider those for the long term as well.  This can mean forecasting as far as 5 or 10 years down the road.  Will children be growing?  Will they be moving out?  Will someone be moving in?  How are our parents doing?  Do we need to consider how their abilities will change as time goes on?  There are all kinds of factors to keep in mind which vary from person to person.  To consider these is to practice thoughtful design, and though there is no crystal ball to predict the future spot on, we must do our best to consider all of the possibilities.

So where can we find products and innovations that support universal design?

Design Ideas and Products

Here are some simple and effective features that can be incorporated into the design at the planning stage that will make a world of difference in terms of ease of use, comfort and safety for all users.


Touchless Faucets such as the Sensate by Kohler, have built-in response technology in tune in with your every move.  Simply wave a hand or object beneath it and it turns it on or off.  A single lever handle allows you to adjust the water temperature.

Kohler Sensate Touchless Faucet


A handshower with a good matte grip and height adjustability is a great option that encompasses a range of bathing preferences.

Kohler Awaken Handshower


Induction cooktops are super safe and effective alternatives to the typical electric or gas cooktop, as the elements do not heat up when turned on, eliminating the risk of a potential burn.

Frigidaire Gallery 30” Induction Cooktop


Pot fillers over a range or cooktop eliminate the need to carry a full pot of water across the room, and ultimately reduce the chance of spills or falls.

Blanco Cantata Wall-Mounted Pot Filler


Rounding the countertop edges ensures that even if we make a tight turn and brush up against the corner of the counter we won’t experience a painful jab the same as with sharp corners.  This is also better for little ones whose foreheads are often at the right height to come in contact with many of the sharp and protruding components in a kitchen.

Rounded Countertop Edges via Fiorella Design


Keep in mind the ‘eye-to-thigh’ reach range when considering placement of commonly used items.  It is within this range from 20” to 61” above the finished floor that the items most commonly reached for should be stored.

‘Eye to Thigh’ Reach Range


Adding simple wood reinforcement between studs before drywall is applied can be done simply and for minimal cost, but affords much potential for the future installation of support elements.

Wood Reinforcement Prior to Drywall Installation


Comfort height toilets which sit between 17” and 19” in height are more in line with chair seat height and can be much easier to stand up from.  Standard toilet height is 17” and lower which requires more exertion to stand.

Kohler Comfort Height Toilet


New technology in bidet seats applied over a regular toilet seat provide wash and dry elements which make using a toilet simpler.

Kohler Elongated Bidet Toilet Seat with Touchscreen Remote Control


Built in benches and fold down benches in showers provide relief for those who prefer a seated position while showering and make leg shaving easier.

Built In Shower Bench via BHG


Task lighting applied in the bathroom as well as the kitchen make for better all-around visibility and minimize the chance of falls occurring during the night.

Bathroom Task Lighting via Divisare Architect


Raised kitchen appliances such as ovens and dishwashers allow for better reachability, keeping within the ‘eye-to-thigh’ range.

GE Café Series Wall Oven


Certain smoke detectors on the market give off visual cues in addition to sound for anyone who may be hearing impaired.

Audible Visible Smoke Detector by Kiddle


Under lit stairways make it possible to see the path of travel while walking upward or downward on a set of stairs, improving safety during the night.

LED Stair Lighting Strips by Klus


Wave action flush toilets remove the need to hold a lever or button down to flush the toilet.

Kohler Touchless Toilet Flush Kit


Amazon’s Alexa uses voice recognition to interpret a request being sent to it.  When integrated with Nest Smart Home Products such as Nest Thermostat, the user will be able to give voice commands to raise or lower the temperature of the home without the need to manually adjust the thermostat.  This combination will also eventually make it possible to control tap operation and temperature in the kitchen and bathroom as well, which could offer numerous advantages for ease of activity.

Amazon Alexa Echo


Wall mounted grab bars are being manufactured in more inventive and sleek designs, like this 24 inch one by Kohler which meets ADA requirements.

Kohler Margaux Grab Bar


Curbless showers and benches in bathrooms allow for ease of access and maintenance.  Installation of many of these designs is made possible by Schluter products with proper liners.

Schluter Kerdi Kers


Kohler technology in fixtures and faucets allows for better visibility at night, seen with the Kohler night light toilet seat.

Kohler Night Light Toilet Seat


Benjamin Moore offers a tool on their website which can display how the eyes will depict a particular colour as they age.

Benjamin Moore Personal Colour Viewer


Invisia Canada makes a soap dish integrated into a circular grab bar so you have everything in one place.

Invisia Soap Dish Grab Bar


Wetstyle makes a shower bench that actually folds back down parallel to the wall, so it won’t take up shower space when not needed.

Wetstyle Cube Shower Seat


Panasonic make a whole line of pull-down extendable shelving products for cabinets, which make getting around a kitchen easier for anyone.

Panasonic Kitchen Systems


To get a better idea of how our abilities can change as we age, it may be worth trying on the Age Explorer suit, by Blum Canada.  This full body suite is designed as an age simulator and allows wearers to walk around and perform regular activities to see how abilities can vary with age.

Blum Canada Age Explorer Suit

It is clear that the number of design ideas and products that support Universal Design is growing and evolving.  Some of these items are easy to implement and can offer instant benefits, while others may require more consideration and planning to incorporate into the home.  In either case, it’s encouraging to find that we are moving in a direction that supports ease of living, allowing us to get back to those activities that bring greater value to our lives.

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