How to Make ADUs Accessible with the Power of Universal Design

Apr 10, 2023 | ADU

When constructing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their property, modern homeowners must factor in how to tailor the design of these spaces for a variety of users. To achieve this end, Universal Design is beneficial as it creates environments that are easy and functional to access regardless of age or physical ability. By considering Universal Design principles when designing ADUs, one can create living areas that cater safely and conveniently to individuals from all walks of life.

Read on to learn how to apply Universal Design principles in ADU design. We’ll discover particular elements such as wide doorways, zero-step entries, and non-slip flooring that can be implemented for improved accessibility and usability. Additionally, we will review further considerations from designers and builders when creating an ADU accommodating to all users’ needs.

Design Principles for Universal Design

In the 1990s, a team of architects, product designers, and environmental design researchers at North Carolina State University devised the Seven Principles of Universal Design – a vital guide for builders to ensure that their spaces are accessible and functional for people across all walks of life.

1 Flexibility

When designing an ADU bedroom, flexibility should be taken into consideration to satisfy a variety of individual preferences and abilities. For example, diverse furniture layouts ought to be incorporated that can easily adapt according to the needs of its residents.

2 Simple and Intuitive Use

The design of an ADU should be straightforward and user-friendly, so that anyone – regardless of their level of experience or knowledge – can use it with ease. Strategically placed signs and labels will assist users in navigating the space without frustration.

3 Equitable Use

The design must be practical and appealing to people of different abilities. This entails creating an ADU that is comfortable for all users, regardless of their physical capability.

4 Perceptible Information

To ensure that users can comprehend and act on necessary information, design should be built to accommodate all sensory abilities. For instance, employing vibrant colors on stairs could assist those with low vision in navigating the space safely and securely.

5 Tolerance for Error

To ensure safety, the design of this ADU should be created with minimal hazards and negative outcomes from unintended or accidental actions. This could include having more rounded corners and lines to minimize any potential harm inflicted on individuals.

6 Low Physical Effort

The design should offer optimal usability without causing discomfort or forcing the user to exert extra effort. For instance, a door handle in an ADU could be designed so that opening it demands minimum strength and energy.

7 Size and Space for Approach and Use

When creating an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU), ample space is essential to make sure that users can easily reach all components, ensuring comfort when using the design. This involves building wide doorways and hallways so people with mobility devices have easy access.

Features of Universal Design for ADUs


Features of Universal Design for ADUs

To make Accessory Dwelling Units more accessible and practical for individuals with different abilities, Universal Design principles should be taken into account. For instance, here are some features that can be included in the design process:

Wide Doorways and Hallways

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) should be designed with wide doorways and hallways to easily accommodate anybody using mobility aids, like wheelchairs, scooters or walkers. It is suggested that a minimum doorway width of 32 inches and hallway width of 36 inches are employed for the best results.

Zero-Step Entries

To ensure easy access for all users, especially those with mobility devices, the entryway to an ADU should be equipped with zero-step entry and a ramp. This will help eliminate barriers and create greater accessibility for everyone.

Lever Door Handles and Faucets

Lever door handles and faucets provide an easier, more intuitive experience for those with limited mobility or hand strength and cognitive impairments. The simple design of the lever makes it a breeze to use, regardless of physical ability or age.

Non-Slip Flooring

ADUs should feature flooring that offers slip-protection and reliable traction, particularly in wet areas like bathrooms or kitchens to avoid falls and injuries.

Stair Design

To ensure a safe and accessible environment for all users, ADUs should contain stairs that have congruent riser heights, tread depths, and handrails on both sides. This makes it easy for individuals with reduced mobility to traverse the steps without fear of injury or difficulty.

Accessible Bathroom Features

To make an ADU bathroom more accessible for those with physical limitations, it should be outfitted with grab bars, non-slip flooring and a roll-in shower or bathtub complete with a built-in seat. These features will ensure safe use of the room for all users.

Additional Considerations for Universal Design in ADUs

Beyond instilling Universal Design into ADU design, designers and builders should proactively bear in mind further considerations to guarantee the space is fully accessible and operational for all occupants. To do this, they can consult with an accesibility expert to ensure that the space is truly accessible and functional for users with diverse abilities.

They can also consider these factors.

Flexibility in Furniture and Storage

Not only should designers strive to create spaces that are versatile, but they must also think about incorporating agile ADU furniture and storage instruments to meet the varying needs of occupants.


Bright lighting is essential not only for individuals with visual impairments, but also those with cognitive disabilities who can become lost within dimly-lit settings.


Sound can be troublesome for users with hearing or cognitive impairments. To address this, designers should think about incorporating sound-absorbing materials to eliminate echo and enhance sound quality.

Temperature Control

Temperature regulation is critical for people with sensory sensitivities or medical ailments that necessitate a certain temperature range. Invest in an uncomplicated thermostat that can guarantee consistent and reliable climate control.

Designing ADUs for Everyone

By adhering to Universal Design principles and incorporating corresponding features, homeowners can construct ADUs that are accessible for people of all ages and abilities. Not only will these living spaces guarantee access for everyone but also allow the flexibility to adapt to a variety of changing needs in the future. That way, your home is ready no matter what life throws at you.

It’s essential to recognize that Universal Design is not only about offering support for individuals with disabilities, but it also involves developing spaces that are more effortless and comfortable for everyone. Adopting these principles and features into ADU design will help construct a society of equity by producing more accessible housing stock.

As the demand for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) increases, it’s essential that designers and builders consider Universal Design principles to guarantee these residences are wholly accessible and functional. By being mindful of this approach when constructing ADUs, we can create living spaces that are tailored to a variety of user needs and abilities while promoting an inclusive community atmosphere. Reach out to Levi Design Build to get started on your ADU development today!