UNIVERSAL HOMES: Adaptable Living Spaces

When designing the adaptable living spaces of your home, consider many accessible design features. These would include the needs of all family members and guests.

Open Plan Living

Homes with open concept plans, lesser doors, lesser passages are more accessible to individuals using wheelchairs. Plans with smaller rooms are harder to access and move around for individuals in wheelchairs. Smaller rooms are also harder to adapt to in the future. 
When designing a new home or planning an extension and renovation ensure that the rooms will work for you. Adding larger doorways between rooms, removing unrequired passages help make rooms larger and more spacious.

Location of Rooms

When planning a new home give some thoughts to the layout. For example, the bathroom and the bedrooms should be next to each other, plan the kitchen and dining around each other. Separate noisy rooms like the TV room or games room from the quiet rooms, such as a bedroom.
Also, distance is a big thing. If an individual is spending a lot of time in the living area or the kitchen installing a WC close by would be ideal to minimize the amount of walking.

Consider changing your room functions. For example, convert an unused TV room into a home office. A seldom used dining room could be the children’s play area. Have a look at how you are using your existing spaces and think about how we can make them work better for you.

General Spaces

Create an imaginary path in your home, ideally 1,000mm wide. When designing this path, think about all the access needed around the home. There is access needed around the furniture, storage, laundry, living spaces such as the kitchen, bedrooms. If a room is small ensure the path can access at least the most important locations like the wardrobe in the bedroom.
Individuals using wheelchairs and scooters need clearances around furniture and switches of a 1,200mm turning circle. Integrate this space into the seating areas. If possible, set a designated open space inside all living areas as allowance for a wheelchair to turn around. A diameter of 1,500mm can accommodate manual wheelchairs. Individuals with walkers wouldn’t need as much space but we still need to account for them.
Plan your spaces wisely. For example, open spaces under surfaces such as tables can be used as turning spaces for wheelchairs.


When planning your spaces, always think about evacuation during an emergency. There should always be a clear path to the outdoors from all floors. If we are on a second floor ensure there is a balcony – a safe area to wait for until help arrives.


  • Entrances should always be accessible.
  • A no-step level entry
  • Entry door should be minimum 920 wide
  • 1,500mm wide to allow for wheelchair circular turning space


  • Minimum 1,100mm wide
  • Handrails for guidance – for individuals with limited mobility, can also help people with limited vision
  • Wall protection – helpful in spaces which are heavily in use by individuals who use walkers and wheelchairs


  • The most accessible doorway is one that has no door. Consider no doors to areas that are not necessary
  • Doors should be minimum 870mm wide – to allow a clear passage width of 860mm
  • Hinged doors need a clear space of 600mm (opening side) minimum to be able to move back when opening the door
  • Other doors to consider – pocket doors
  • Door handles that don’t require twisting of the wrist – Lever door handles are the easiest
  • Push button locks are better than keys
  • Remote control door locks
  • Place a parcel shelf next to your door – making it easier for you to place an item and open the door. Delivery person can leave parcels there as well making it more accessible
  • For the visually impaired paint the door a contrasting colour
  • Install a wide-angle peephole
  • Glass doors
    • Are great for adding natural light to the room
    • Make them from laminated glass, they wouldn’t shatter into smaller pieces
    • Lowest edge of the pane should be no higher than 900mm – allows for a seated person to be able to see through the panels
    • Stick a decal at eye-level to visually alert the users that it’s a glass door


Windows are installed to let fresh air and light into the room. When choosing windows consider the following:

  • Have windows large enough to light up the room but not too large to create glare.
  • Use curtains to cover them – adjusts the light levels and also helps in regulating temperatures in the room
  • Consider the sill height of the window
  • Consider the usability of the window, especially the opening and locking mechanisms – some windows can be opened with one hand and the mechanisms are easy to reach. Sliding windows are a good option – Easy to use and open. Sometimes the larger windows might be heavy. Sliding doors can be heavy and may not be a good choice for someone who has limited strength
  • Opening and locking mechanisms should be between 610mm and 1,200mm from the floor.
  • If possible, have a clear floor space in front of them so individuals can use the mechanisms without stretching over furniture.
  • Colour contrast the locking mechanisms from the window frames for the visually impaired

Storage and Cabinets

  • Consider the different reaching abilities of everyone in the family. These abilities can change over time too.
  • Consider adjustable shelving that can be customized as necessary
  • Avoid frequent use cabinets that require step stools
  • Maximise most of your storage between 400mm and 1,200mm height
  • Choose hardware that can be used with one hand and doesn’t need a tight grip. Touch latches and ‘D’ shaped handles are excellent choices
  • Pull out shelving and drawers are easier for everyone to use
  • Colour contrast the handles to the cabinets for easier identification
  • A contrast strip at the edge of the shelf


  • Choose sturdy and strong furniture – It often gets used for support and flimsy furniture tends to topple over
  • Have a few seats at a seat height of 450mm for individuals with motor issues. Firm cushions and sturdy hand rests
  • Consider visibility of the furniture when choosing them. They can be easily identified by a person with low vision.
  • Space them out for good movement around


  • The ambience and the aesthetics of the room usually depends on the lighting of the room. Light provides us a path to walk, safety and security.
  • Dimmers are an excellent way to adjust the rooms ambiance.
  • Passages and stairs need to have bright and consistent light
  • Have a permanent night light in passages, stairs and bathrooms. Try LED linear lights
  • Consider table and floor lamps for reading and writing
  • Evenly distribute electrical outlets around the residence
  • Have lots of outlets around the residence
  • Install outlets at around 400mm height to allow for ease of reach
  • If there is going to be a future lift – have an outlet in the ceiling
  • For a chairlift ensure there is an outlet at the bottom and the top of the stairs
  • Install the light switches where they can be easily reached


Acoustics help in the ability to hear. A quiet environment is preferable by individuals who are hard of hearing or even individuals with vision loss. Hard elements such as ceramic flooring, metal panelling reflect sounds which makes it harder for individuals with vision loss or even individuals who are hard of hearing to orientate themselves.

  • Add soft elements to your room – carpets, curtains, upholstered furniture. These absorb sounds travelling around
  • Insulation in walls and ceilings – helps in absorbing sound and regulating heat in the room
  • Flat ceilings – To avoid echoes
  • Quieter mechanical equipment
  • Place noisy mechanical equipment outside
  • Sound proof walls


Appropriate use of colour contrast enhances accessibility for everyone. Especially individuals with low vision. Contrasting colour helps identify the potential hazards, location of switches, furniture, travel paths and built in elements.


The choice of finishes in a home are usually based on aesthetics, personal preferences and budget. There are also environmental and functional issues to consider. 

Consider zero VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) finishes. Check out our guide on Zero VOC Paints and Finishes here.

When designing an accessible home, it is always a good idea to consult with a professional someone who is well versed with designing homes for accessibility. Get ideas from your physiotherapist or even your occupational therapist. Work with these professionals to get the best possible outcome for yourself.

Recent Guides

Renovating Guide

Sustainability Guide