Universal Design: Entryways, Hallways and Room Layouts

We started with our discussion of Universal Design Considerations with Zero Barrier Entries. So the logical next step would be Entryways, Hallways and Room Layouts.

There are two key  components to these areas to consider.

The first is room to move. The second is ease of navigation.

Room to Move

Room to move means enough space width-wise to navigate a wheelchair through the entryway, down the hall and around the rooms. That requires a minimum of 36″-48″ clear space to navigate in a forward or backward direction. This is true in the entryway (including clearance to close the door behind you when you enter). This is true in the hallway (including through any internal doorways) and this is true in the various rooms (including around beds, furniture, etc.)

Room to move also requires enough space for a turning radius. Although 36″-48″ is required for forward and backward navigation, a full 60″ is recommended (and needed for many chairs) to turn around. This is especially true for power wheelchairs. While you do not need this width in all locations of a home, each room should have at least one space where turning is possible – ideally in a fairly central location, to limit the distance you need to reverse to navigate the space.

It simplifies all of our daily tasks, making it less likely that you will turn an ankle, bang an elbow, or struggle to get your laundry basket, suitcase or backpack through the door when you’re rushing to the next item on your list. These couple of extra inches also provide mental ‘breathing space’ for us, and who doesn’t need a bit more of that in our lives?

So along with creating space for wheelchairs, this room to move will make it easier to travel throughout your house and function within it, fulfilling Principles 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 of Universal Design – Equitable Use, Flexibility of Use, Tolerance for Error, Low Physical Effort and Size and Space for Approach and Use.

Ease of Navigation

Ease of navigation again includes two fairly clear components: physical ease of use (Principles 1, 2, 5, 6 and 7 – as above) and intuitive ease of use (Principles 3 and 4 – Simple and Intuitive to Use and Perceptible information).

To create ease of navigation on a physical level we reduce transitions and lips in flooring within spaces and between spaces, avoiding unnecessary tripping hazards. We create straight hallways with simple, 90º turns into rooms wherever possible. We remove unnecessary doors, and ensure that each doorway has space to open to a minimum of 36″. All of these together reduce effort and tolerance of error, and increase how easily -and how flexibly – everyone can access the space.

The second part of navigation, however, is making it intuitive. Regardless of the state of our mental faculties, we all have days when we’re bone-weary tired. We have moments when – for whatever reason – we bumble around in the dark, late at night. And for some of us, there are reasons why it can be easy to lose our way as we move around a house, even in the middle of the day. Fabulously enough, many of the things that create better physical ease of navigation help us with intuitive navigation: straight hallways and limited doors allow clear sight lines that help orient us and keep us going in the right direction and 90º turns are easy to peak around to see which room we’ve come to.

But there are a couple of other things we can add to this that will also help us with navigation. The first is natural light, which subconsciously helps us to orient within a space. The more options – and directions – you have to bring in natural light the better! The second is to use nightlights in hallways to help illuminate the space after dark to help people navigate easily after dark. And the third is to use visual signs on bathrooms and bedrooms to help distinguish one room from another.

Each of these intuitive prompts simplifies navigation overall for every member – and visitor – of the household. They lower our mental load, make it far less likely that we will become disoriented, and create more opportunities to enjoy the space!

Other blog posts in this series:

The Case for Universally Designed Communities

“Can’t You Just Add An Elevator?”

Universal Design: Property Considerations

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Universal Design: Zero Barrier Entries

Universal Design: Bathrooms

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