NPR logo Universal Design: The House Of Your Future?

Universal Design: The House Of Your Future?

Imagine building a house when you're young that you can live in as you age: wide doorways can accommodate both a stroller and a wheelchair; towel racks in the kitchen double as grab bars as balance grows unsteady; and entryways are smooth to prevent tripping. Builders incorporate these concepts of universal design to create homes that are barrier-free without looking purposely modified. Here, take a tour of a home designed to be accessible to all.

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Home for the Next 50 Years Water Faucet Kitchen Shelves Kitchen Overview Towel Racks Water Heater Shower Bathroom Sink Shower Valves Doors
Water Faucet

A water faucet over the stovetop keeps cooks from having to lug a heavy pot of water from the sink. This can be handy even for those with just a touch of arthritis.

Kitchen Shelves

Kitchen shelves pull out like drawers for easy access. Amenities like this may be especially useful for the disabled and elderly but have wide crossover appeal for anyone who doesn't like to bend over and scrounge around for hard-to-reach items.

Kitchen Overview

This universally designed kitchen is wheelchair friendly, with wide aisles and low counters and appliances, yet looks straight out of a glossy home design magazine.

Kitchen Towel Racks

Sleek towel racks in this kitchen also double as grab bars.

Water Heater

This water heater is raised off the ground at a height that it is easily adjustable.


Showers with a smooth entry are easier to get in and out of. And the floor is angled just enough to prevent water from seeping into the rest of the bathroom.

Bathroom Sink

This bathroom sink has a grab bar, plus space underneath so someone in a wheelchair can roll right up.

Shower Valves

As with door handles, shower valves have a lever design, and they are easier to turn than traditional knobs. A large majority of the elderly have some form of dexterity problem.


Doors are a few inches wider than standard -- and at least one entrance to a universally designed home is flat, with no steps. This not only eases entry for those in a wheelchair, it also allows them to get out fast in an emergency. Flat entries are also helpful for parents with strollers.