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This is a set of universal design standards for housing. Most housing worldwide is unregulated by accessibility policy, which has created a significant shortage of homes ideal for the 19% of households with accessibility needs (HUD, 2022).
The information in these chapters is intended to supplement existing residential building codes. Many functional details in home design are often overlooked and make many everyday tasks unsafe for people with decreased health or disabilities. We aim to fill in those gaps.
NB: Although this code is about accessibility, no items are specific to disability. Each design element is important and needs to be included for a home to be considered universally accessible.
The Residential Universal Design Building Code does not address every item that can go into a home. We focus on design elements integrated into the physical structure and building site.
We compiled years of research at The UD Project and included every design element that we believe is necessary to make a home universally accessible. To validate our research, we solicited advice and feedback from nearly 200 individuals with either personal or professional experience with a wide range of disabilities and impairments.
There were many features, design elements, and products that "didn't make the cut" because they weren't universally useful. We also received feedback about products that either don't exist, are difficult to find, or are expensive. Those didn't make the cut, even if they were great ideas.
Millions of people are living in homes that are detrimental to their health. Over 67,000,000 adults in the USA live with a disability, but less than 200,000 out of approximately 140,000,000 housing units throughout the USA are universally accessible. That's less than 0.15%! The supply of accessible homes doesn't meet the need. Our country needs more homes built to these standards.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 27% of adults in the USA have some type of disability. This includes mobility, cognition, independent living, hearing, vision, and/or self-care impairments.
- The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has found that 19% of households include an individual with accessibility needs. This is reinforced by data from the American Housing Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, which indicates that approximately 21% of households have a member with a disability.
- The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard has identified that only 1.0% percent of the national housing stock offers five basic universal design features. This is woefully inadequate compared to well over 150 design elements in the Residential Universal Design Building Code.
Our research has found that the lack of accessible homes and the unattainability of an ideal home profoundly affects one's health and is most often detrimental to mental health and relationships. Unsurprisingly, while home accessibility provides functional and safety benefits, it affects all aspects of one's well-being.
Accessibility may seem like it's only useful for individuals with disabilities, but it's helpful for us all. Look at the design elements in the Residential Universal Design Building Code chapters. None are disability-specific. The goal should be to design homes that are easier to use for everyone.
While data supports a clear and immediate need for building more universally accessible housing to support households affected by disability, it's essential to look at the long-term impacts on our communities. Consider these two statistics:
In other words, the homes in our country last for decades and typically have multiple owners. If approximately 1 in 5 households has an individual who has accessibility needs and each home will be occupied by multiple households, then it only makes sense to build homes that can support those needs. Unfortunately, homes that are truly universally accessible are nearly impossible to find. Modifying inaccessible homes isn't sustainable, nor is treating each accessible build as a custom project.
Social sustainability is about identifying and managing business impacts, both positive and negative, on people. The quality of a company's relationships and engagement with its stakeholders is critical. Directly or indirectly, companies affect what happens to employees, workers in the value chain, customers, and local communities, and it is important to manage impacts proactively.Actions to achieve social sustainability may unlock new markets, help retain and attract business partners, or be the source of innovation for a new product or service line.While it is the primary duty of governments to protect, respect, fulfill and progressively realize human rights, businesses can, and should, do their part. At a minimum, we expect businesses to undertake due diligence to avoid harming human rights and to address any adverse impacts on human rights that may be related to their activities.
The USA needs a surplus of housing options that support common everyday activities for people affected by disability. More universally accessible homes will help our communities better accommodate our population for decades into the future.
We are a small business based in Virginia, USA. We are remote-first and work nationally.
- Our mission is to increase the demand for universally accessible homes.
- Our vision is for every community across the United States to have a surplus of universally accessible homes.
- Our team is comprised of health professionals with years of experience working with people with a wide range of physical, sensory, and cognitive impairments.
- We also have a volunteer group of nearly 200 Design Advisors who have lived experience with disability and serve to validate the accessibility claims of our work.
Unfortunately, many terms are loosely used in the niche of universal design and accessibility. These are the top terms that you'll hear us use and what we mean by each:
We use the historical definition of universal design, coined by Ron Mace in the 1980s:
"Design that's usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design."
Each of the phrases in-between commas is important. In summary:
- 1.Universal design is about usability.
- 2.Universal design has to be approached in a way that considers all possible users, which includes people who experience a broad range of impairments. The goal should be maximum accessibility (within realistic constraints) without including specialized features that have utility for some people but no functional purpose for others.
- 3.Universal design needs to be as functional as possible to minimize the need for people to add "extra stuff" to make it work for them.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" design solution for housing. But if we design with all people in mind, we can be much more inclusive than exclusive.
This is a vague yet commonly-used term. "Accessible" is descriptive and always requires an object; i.e., "this is accessible to _______________."
We often use the term "universally accessible" as the outcome of universal design.
Typically, people think "Accessible" means "ADA compliant," which implies that something is disability-specific. However, the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is legislation that primarily applies to public accommodation, not [most] housing.
Specialized design refers to something designed to accommodate a specific need. One can differentiate between specialized design and universal design if something is usable or useful for some people but not all people. Universal design should accommodate specialized design elements if needed.
Modifications are changes made to something (e.g., a home) that already exists.
Adaptations are things (e.g., products) someone uses to help them successfully perform tasks when something (e.g., a home) doesn't fully accommodate their needs.
Disability is the result of external factors that create barriers to the successful completion of tasks or participation if someone has an impairment that requires a different approach than is expected by the status quo of design that is primarily for people with optimal health.
Disability is not a diagnosis. It is part of the human experience in the world we live in. Our bodies do not last forever. Countless health conditions exist that affect typical function and ability. The design of our housing must be seen as healthcare.
Impairments are individual factors that limit someone's function, often due to a health condition.
Last modified 9d ago