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Basic (And Necessary) Recommendations for Designing Accessible Homes

Basic (And Necessary) Recommendations for Designing Accessible Homes
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Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

A good architecture project must be accessible to all, regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities. To raise awareness about these issues, and help you in the design process, we have compiled some basic actions that must be carried out for people to inhabit residential spaces comfortably and without obstacles.

It's important to remember that each country has its own regulations in relation to accessibility, so the specific dimensions presented below – based on the 'Universal Accessibility Guide' by Ciudad Accesible – are conceptual and may vary for each project. Before designing an accessible home, review local guidelines and adhere to, if not exceed, listed needs and requirements, thus ensuring a good quality of life for users in the long term.

Corridors must be continuous and safe

As a basic rule, circulation must be fluid and uninterrupted from the street to the interior of the house. All kinds of obstacles must be avoided. If they exist, they must be easily identified, either by grouping elements or indicating their location. In general, 150 cm wide corridors will satisfy all cases, considering a minimum width of 90 cm. Although this measure may sound excessive for houses with small spaces, it could be creatively incorporated through flexible furniture or dual-use areas.

Recommended Materials

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

Stairs are not accessible, but certain precautions can be taken

A house that requires vertical circulation to access lower or upper floors is not accessible unless certain measures are taken. Incorporating elevators may be feasible in institutional or public buildings, but in housing it is often too expensive. If the house has to be designed with two or more levels, ramps, stairlifts, or lifting platforms must be included.

Traditional stairs are not fully accessible but may include some improvements for people with reduced mobility. For example, by incorporating uniform steps, with a footprint not less than 28 cm and a riser not larger than 18 cm, avoiding the "open" riser and obstacles in the height of its entire path. They must always include handrails.

Recommended Materials

  • Footprints and risers: non-slip surface, with textures that mark its beginning and its end.

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

If there are level changes, ramps are essential

It's clear: if we fill the house with stairs, its inhabitants can hardly move fluidly. The ramp is the natural option to the ladder and must be properly incorporated to function effectively.

Ideally, ramps should not exceed 8% of longitudinal slope and should be designed with a minimum width of 90 cm, although it is recommended to reach 150 cm in width. Handrails must be included without interruptions at 70 cm and 95 cm high. If the ramp is too long, it should be divided approximately every 9 meters, including breaks without slope. The breaks and the spaces where the ramp begins and ends must be flat surfaces of 150 x 150 cm.

Recommended Materials

  • Ramp: non-slip surface, with textures that mark its beginning and end.
  • Handrail: comfortable material for the movement of the hand until the end of the path.

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

Not all doors are suitable

In general, it is recommended to include doors between 90 and 100 cm in width, which can be opened or slid completely, including handles or anatomical bars at 95 cm high. Doors that obstruct the movement of people, especially in areas near the ramps, should be avoided.

Revolving doors are not fully accessible, while glazed doors must be clearly indicated, with signs that contrast with the bottom. Automatic or hydraulic doors, on the other hand, must be regulated to deliver the time necessary for a person to transfer them without problems. Swing doors must be carefully designed and depending on the characteristics of each space; it is not irrelevant whether they open inward or outward.

The importance of correctly designing windows

Folding windows (that open inward), sliding (with horizontal displacement) or pivot (with horizontal or vertical displacement), are good options to include in a house. When designing them, it is important to observe and understand the user deeply, effectively handling natural lighting and ventilation, in addition to the views that will be framed. We must not forget that many times these can be the main connection point between people and the outside world.

Recommended Materials

  • Doors and windows: include pressure handles or lever mechanisms in folding doors and windows, and bars or handles in sliding doors and windows. The locks or latches must be easy to operate and can be opened from the outside in case of emergency.

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

Bathrooms could be a separate project, with very specific dimensions 

As for accessibility, bathrooms are a world in themselves. Its dimensions and openings must allow access and movement of a wheelchair; a minimum diameter of 150 cm (at least up to 70 cm high) and a sliding or folding door (opening outwards) are recommended. Support bars, fixed and folding, and accessories that allow hanging crutches or canes should be incorporated. The surface of the bath must be non-slip, dry and wet. 

Main Artifacts Recommendations

  • Toilets: it is recommended to install them at a maximum height of 50 cm, freeing at least one side access 80 cm away. Discharging mechanisms must be able to be easily operated by the user.
  • Sink: should be located at a height of 80 cm, preventing them from sitting on furniture or pedestals, freeing up space for a wheelchair to approach (minimum 70 cm).
  • Showers: it is advisable to include showers at the same level as the bathroom floor, with a minimum area of 90 x 120 cm, folding seat, and a 2% slope towards the drain. Safety bars must be included at 85 cm height and lever or single lever taps, manageable from the seat. Showers with flexible hose facilitate user actions. 

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

Functional and adjustable kitchens

Care must be taken when distributing workspaces, promoting a fluid movement between the kitchen, the dishwasher, and the fridge. It is recommended to free the space under the work table, located 80 cm high, to allow the approach of a wheelchair user, if that's the case. All utensils and artifacts must be easily attainable; in the case of superior furniture, there are some adjustable systems that bring them closer to the user's height.

Recommended Materials

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

Comfortable and independent bedrooms

Bedrooms should be pleasant, promoting the rest of its inhabitants, placing special emphasis on their lighting (and darkness). When designing them we must follow the same keys set out above, including the minimum dimensions necessary for the independent movement of people: 90 cm circulations and 150 cm rotation areas for wheelchairs, a bed height close to 50 cm, and low-rise storage spaces, with sliding doors. The switches must be easily attainable and signed with lights, for darkness.

Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco
Schematic diagram with recommended measures. Local regulations should be reviewed before designing. Image © José Tomás Franco

Living rooms could be sensory and dynamic environments

While they meet the minimum dimensions indicated above, living rooms are flexible spaces that give us greater freedom of design in favor of the quality of life. Textures and colors, along with thermal, acoustic and lighting conditions, can make a difference in the way people inhabit and perceive the spaces where they spend most of their time, even helping them heal through sensory stimuli. Home automation, increasingly affordable and easy to incorporate into new buildings, can help boost these operations, activating predefined environments through motion sensors, control panels, or voice commands.

Find more details and complete information in the 'Universal Accessibility Guide' by Ciudad Accesible.

About this author
Cite: Franco, José Tomás. "Basic (And Necessary) Recommendations for Designing Accessible Homes" [Recomendaciones básicas (y necesarias) para diseñar casas accesibles] 20 Aug 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/923212/basic-and-necessary-recommendations-for-designing-accessible-homes/> ISSN 0719-8884
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