Universal Design and Visitability

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The design of a house directly impacts the ability of residents to live at home comfortably and safely. A good design can make it possible for residents to stay at home as they age or cope with a short- or long-term disability.

Sarasota County supports designing homes to better support these varied populations and aims, and has unveiled a voluntary recognition program for residential units that apply principles of Universal Design and Visitability.


What is universal design and visitability

Universal Design and Visitability concepts seek to support seniors, those with disabilities, and other individuals with unique needs by implementing design accommodations in new and existing homes.

women in wheelchair in an accessible kitchen

Universal Design (UD) involves designing products and built spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people possible.

It is meant to make it easier for residents with particular needs to use and enjoy a home by creating a more accessible, productive space.

A UD home includes amenities that are more functional and user-friendly for everyone, and particularly helpful at advanced ages.

Some of the elements incorporated into a UD home include:

  • A no-step entry.
  • Doors wide enough for wheelchair access.
  • Easy-grasp door handles.
  • Knee space beneath sinks.

Visitability is a less stringent standard than UD that focuses primarily on the entryway and a first-floor bathroom.

The full set of design elements recommended for each category is included in the checklists.


Why are universal design and visitability important?universal-design bathroom

Nearly a third of the county's population is at least 65 years old, and roughly one in five county residents has a disability. It is crucial to prepare the built environment to meet the needs of our aging and disabled citizens, to improve the quality of life for them and the families that love and care for them. 

Both Universal Design and Visitability:

  • Make it easier for elders, those with disabilities and others with particular needs to maintain their dignity, security, safety and independence.
  • Can reduce healthcare costs by lessening the chance for accidents and falls, and be valuable for people who experience a temporary injury or mobility impairment.
  • Are flexible and forward-thinking, and make homes more marketable.


How much does it cost?

The cost of Universal Design can be minimal when applied in the design phase of new construction projects. Cost estimates range from $200 to $3,000, depending on the site, building context and square footage.

The cost of Visitability is even lower, estimated as low as $100 for a new concrete slab home. Retrofitting an existing home would be more expensive, given the need to redesign spaces and doors, but it could be included in a kitchen or bathroom retrofit or other home renovation project.


How Does the Recognition Program Work?

Sarasota County has implemented a voluntary incentive and recognition program to encourage builders to construct housing that meets UD and Visitability standards.

Residential units that meet the criteria of either UD or Visitability, according to the checklists, will be recognized by Sarasota County for the accomplishment.

Builders that commit to the stricter UD standard also will receive fast-track permitting, and will receive a certificate and recognition sticker that can be placed in the home.


Where can I learn more?

Sign up for an Extension class or request a speaker to come to your group to discuss UD.

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