Planning for all ages and abilities Print

Design Outcome

Design the house to be used by people of all ages and abilities

​​​​The principles of Universal Design are to design houses to be as useful as possible to as wide a range of people as possible over their lifetimes. It includes people with a wide range of different abilities including (but not limited to) people in wheelchairs.

The fundamental principle is to make a home that can easily be adapted to suit the changing needs of the occupants as they progress through life. It is accepted that not all homes can incorporate all of the universal design principles, and they may have to be balanced with other design outcomes. However, if the house incorporates one or some Universal Design principles, it will be a better designed, more functional house than if it incorporates none.

Auckland Council uses the Lifemark Design Standards Handbook to assess the universal design quality of homes. A three star rating is the minimum to ensure a home incorporates universal design principles.

Better Design Practice

Laying out the house for universal design

Research has shown that corridors, no matter how wide, can cause problems for a wide range of people with disabilities.
Minimising the use of corridors can make the house more flexible to more people. If corridors are unavoidable, consider providing wider areas in the corridor which can be used to give wheelchair access to the maximum number of spaces. 

Having separate living and dining areas can provide more flexibility in how the house is used, particularly in larger houses. 

If designing a home for people in wheelchairs, it important to understand how the occupants will use the space. 
For example, while having a living room with enough space to turn a wheelchair my technically comply with the standard, it may not necessarily mean they can get out of the wheelchair and onto a chair or sofa. It is better to ensure that there is enough space for a wheelchair user to sit at the dining table in their chair, and to sit in their wheelchair to watch television. 

It is not practical to assume that the occupants will push furniture (such as dining tables) out of the way to provide the necessary circulation space.
It is better design practice to show the furniture as it would be used, and to provide sufficient circulation space to get around it.


A wheelchair accessible bathroom is significantly larger than a standard bathroom, and will require a wet area shower, with a fall in the floor. 
Typically, this will not be able to be retrofitted without extensive cost, even if the house incorporates universal design criteria. However the house might be future-proofed by ensuring one bathroom is large enough to be converted in the future if required.

Sloping sites

On sloping sites there should be a balance between making the house as accessible as possible, and minimising any extensive earthworks, retaining, ramps and hand rails.
Steep ramps are unsafe and should never be provided; stairs are safer for all users. Wide shallow steps which can accommodate a person and a piece of equipment (walking frame or buggy) will provide easy access to a wide range of people.
Houses on slopes that incorporate universal design criteria will still be more flexible and useful to a range of people than those that do not.
The minimum Lifemark standards can still be met by providing a wider car park, which can be on the driveway, with level access to the front door.

Provide a range of houses

The ultimate aim of universal design is to make the urban environment suitable for as wide a range of people as possible.
This is hard to achieve if all the houses are the same type, even if they incorporate universal design principles. Therefore, providing a variety of house types, sizes and number of bedrooms will mean the city as a whole is better able to accommodate a wider range of people.

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