Adaptable Design*

An adaptable dwelling unit [ideally] has all the accessible features that a fixed accessible unit has but allows some items to be omitted or concealed until needed so the dwelling units can look the same as others and be better matched to individual needs when occupied.

In an adaptable dwelling, wide doors, no steps, knee spaces, control and switch locations, grab bar reinforcing and other access features must be built in. Grab bars however, can be omitted and installed when needed. Because the necessary blocking is already provided, the bars can simply be screwed in place without opening the existing walls to install reinforcing. Knee spaces can be concealed by installing a removable base cabinet that can simply be unscrewed from adjacent cabinets and slipped out when needed or by installing self-storing cabinet doors that fold and slide back. Counter tops and closet rods can be placed on adjustable supports rather than fixed at lower heights as required for some wheelchair users. Standards for adaptable design have been incorporated into both ANSI and UFAS. These standards specify adaptability criteria, which will provide a level of full accessibility when adjustments are made.

Adaptable features are a marketing advantage for owners and occupants as they allow fully accessible dwellings to be closely suited to their users and marketable to anyone.

Adaptable design means readily adjusted. It does not allow building inaccessible units on the promise that they will be removed or remodeled for accessibility upon request. For this reason, it is best to think of adaptable features as those that can be adjusted in a short time by unskilled labor without involving structural or finished material changes.

Home Adaptability Checklist **

A home may be considered adaptable if it has all or most of the following key structural features that allow reasonable entry and circulation without extensive modification:

  • Located on a relatively flat or level site with paved walkways from parking (covered is preferred) and sidewalk areas to level entry
  • A ground-level entrance or a one or two step entrance clear of any major obstructions, i.e. trees, building corners, etc., that would accept a ramp with a slope no greater than 1" height per 12" in length
  • No steps or abrupt level changes on main floor
  • Wider-than-standard doorways (32" or more clear width); 1/2" high maximum thresholds
  • Wide hallways at least 42"; preferably 48"- 60"
  • At least one large bathroom with a 32" clear door opening and clear 5'x5' floor space
  • A kitchen large enough for easy wheelchair mobility (U or L shaped or open plan preferred)

Note: The 1988 fair Housing Amendments Act protects persons with disabilities from unfair and discriminatory housing practices. It also provides for certain architectural accessibility and adaptable design requirements in new multifamily housing built for first occupancy on or after March 13, 1991. Builders and developers of multifamily housing should be familiar with these design requirements.
There are no federal building access requirements for single residential settings. While in keeping with general federal and state housing accessibility standards, these checklists are not intended to be used to determine if builders, developers, etc. have met the necessary building codes governing single home construction. Building codes for single family residential structures vary from state to state and should be checked prior to any construction.

Source Credits
*The material provided under the heading “Adaptable Design” has been reprinted verbatim from the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina University. Disclaimer: The Principles of Universal Design was conceived and developed by The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by The Center for Universal Design of the use or application.

**The Home Adaptability Checklist has been reprinted verbatim with permission from Easter Seals Disability Services, copyright 2013, all rights reserved.