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Accessible Design


Paralyzed Veterans of America is the only veterans organization with on-staff architects that provide design assistance to veterans. PVA architects are specialized in accessible design and have extensive experience.

PVA Architecture seeks to promote an accessible, barrier-free environment. We advocate for accessible design in the architecture and construction industries. PVA Architecture helps to develop building codes and standards for the entire nation and serves on federal advisory committees to further define the ADA guidelines.

With the unique design knowledge of Paralyzed Veterans’ architects, many public buildings, stadiums, courthouses, memorials, and other structures are made more accessible and enjoyable by the public.

We at PVA Cal-Diego are happy to visit your facility and provide feedback and support to your organization. Please call Peter at 858-450-1443 to arrange for a site visit. We do not report to anyone but you and we are looking to help you make the "Reasonable Accommodations” that help you not only meet the ADA requirements but also encourage San Diegans with disabilities to visit your place of business.


We are proud of our service to veterans. We strive to enhance the quality of life for people living with a spinal cord injury, spinal cord disorders and anyone with mobility impairments.​

Kitchen Design

Many people do not realize how much time they spend in the kitchen.  This very important room unfortunately can be one of the most inaccessible rooms of the house.  Sinks should be mounted at a height that allows a wheelchair user or a person sitting on a stool to fit under the sink; usually a 30″ under-sink clearance is necessary.  Insulate exposed pipes to prevent accidental burns.



  • Whenever possible use faucets with levered handles and extended spouts. 

  • A closed fist operation is helpful for persons with arthritis. 

  • Retractable spray spouts are also a very useful option.  It is a good idea to install an anti-scald device to further prevent accidental burns.

  • A second sink can be placed in a lowered work area to benefit seated persons or wheelchair users​


Countertops and Workspace Areas:

  • Vary available workspace heights to help include all family members in preparing the meals, from the eight-year-old to the elderly parent in a wheelchair.

  • Use smooth and matte-finished countertop surfaces to allow the sliding of heavy pots and to minimize glare.

  • Contrasting countertops and cabinetry aids people with impaired vision in locating countertop edges.

  • Rounded countertop edges may minimize injury in the event of a fall.

Cabinetry & Storage:

  • Base cabinets can utilize “Lazy-Susans,” roll-out shelving, and full-extension drawers to maximize access.

  • The base of the top cabinets should be no higher than 48″ for easier access.  Top cabinets can also be fully lowered to the countertop level.  Hardware that can be operated with a closed fist is highly recommended. D-shaped handles for cabinetry doors and drawers are commonly used.

  • Store consistently used items (plates, pots, and pans) in the middle zone of your storage areas.

  • Light to moderately used items should be placed in the upper storage zone. Heavier items should be stored in the lower zone.


Microwave Oven:

  • Built-in microwave ovens are usually too high for a seated person to reach.  A high location can potentially be dangerous for seated persons or children when retrieving hot food.

  • Locate microwave ovens on a lowered countertop or workspace for a seated person to reach and operate.

  • Provide enough space on which a heavy and hot plate can be slid.


  • Ranges and cooktop/oven combinations are not recommended because a seated person or a person in a wheelchair can not sit under the cooking surface.  

  • The area under a cooktop can be left open to allow access for a seated individual or a person in a wheelchair.  

  • Remote switches to control cooktop venting/lighting can be placed at a more accessible location where a seated person can reach and operate; do not place switches such that a person must reach over a heated surface.  

  • An angled mirror can be mounted over the cooktop or range to help a seated person see into the back pots on the cooking surface

  • The ideal cooktop would:

    • Be Electric

    • Have front controls

    • Have heat indicators for unused burners to warn people of a potentially hot surface that can burn them

    • Be flush with the countertop

    • Have a smooth cooktop surface

    • Have a burner arrangement that prevents a person from reaching over a burner to access a rear burner

    • Have controls that a person with arthritis or impaired vision can operate​​



  • Side-oven doors are helpful for those who have difficulty bending to place or retrieve heavy items from the oven.

  • Mount ovens at a height that can be easily reached into without excessive back bending.

  • Oven controls should not exceed a height of 48″ above the finished floor.

  • A pull-out shelf directly under a raised oven can be used to prevent dropping heavy or hot items onto the floor.


  • Raise the dishwasher 18″ to ease loading/unloading the dishwasher without excessive bending of your body.

  • Dishwasher controls should be on the front face and be operable with a closed fist.

  • The dishwasher should be able to be opened and closed with a closed fist.

Refrigerator & Freezer:

  • Side-by-side combinations are the most accessible.

  • Transparent drawers and adjustable shelving are convenient.​



  • Utilize natural lighting as much as possible to reduce glare.

  • All work areas should have appropriate task lighting to minimize glare and shadows.

  • Switches and other environmental controls should be mounted between 42″-48″.

  • Home automation devices (e.g., timers and motion sensors) can be used to turn on/off lighting.

  • As long as glare is avoided, you can increase the lighting level in any room to help those with vision impairments.


  • Use contrasting colors to aid vision-impaired individuals. Low-vision individuals are less likely to fall if they can distinguish walls, cabinetry, and countertops.  

  • Flooring should be hard and relatively smooth to improve mobility.

  • Gaps between tiled floors can potentially cause people to fall and injure themselves.

  • Avoid light-colored flooring. Inadvertent marks from persons using canes, walkers, or wheelchairs can easily be seen.


Other Considerations:

  • Wall-mounted electrical outlets should be mounted at a minimum height of 18″ above the finished floor

  • Avoid placing electrical outlets on the wall behind a countertop. Persons sitting at the work area may not be able to plug in an electrical appliance.

For additional solutions, contact the PVA or an occupational therapist for additional information.

Universal Design


“Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” – Ron Mace

Universal Design embodies the concept of implementing practical and pleasing designs that are easily and widely useable. It can be applied to personal and professional environments, products, and communications.

Universal Design as it applies to the home environment, can increase the accessibility, visitability, and usability of spaces that can be utilized by as many people as possible, regardless of age, mobility status, cognitive ability, or physical impairment.

Why is Universal Design so important?  It is not uncommon for someone with a disability to not be able to enter a home or a store because the building is not accessible.  Many times, even in their own homes, people with disabilities are not able to access their own bathrooms or kitchens because their house was not originally designed with accessibility in mind.  Implementing Universal Design principles, such as a ramp and a wider entryway to your home, will allow aging parents or friends with impaired mobility to visit because they can now enter your home with ease.  Making hallways 48″ wide will allow people with impaired mobility to have access to all parts of the house.  Incorporating a roll-in shower into your bathroom will enable a guest who uses a wheelchair to bathe.  Furthermore, a business that incorporates Universal Design would provide access to all potential customers.  For instance, a business with ramps at the entrance would allow parents with strollers as well as people who use scooters, walkers, and wheelchairs to enter and shop in their store.

Contrary to popular belief, architectural design and modification incorporating Universal Design principles do not need to be expensive.  A new home with a well-planned design to accommodate accessibility and functional living may add only one percent of the final selling price of the home.  Costs to modify an existing home will vary, but you can expect costs to be significantly higher on major renovations due to structurally changing the home.  In either case, you will have a home that will be accessible and functionally useable for many years to come.


Explore our website to learn more about Universal Design as it applies to the home environment.  Cal-Diego strongly advocates for the implementation of Universal Design as a standard in all architectural design.  If you are paralyzed and are planning on modifying your home or designing a new home, contact your local PVA for additional information and assistance.


Visit these links for more information on Universal Design:

U.S. Department of Labor

Accessible Society

Northwest Universal Design Council




Bathroom Design


  • Doors can be a pathway to a whole new world or the gateway to lost possibilities.

  • Widen doorway to a minimum of 36″ to maximize ease of entry and exit. If not possible, widen doorways 30″ and use swing-away door hinges.

  • Use pocket doors (doors that slide into the wall) whenever feasible to promote access

Grab Bars:

  • Grab bars are designed to provide a stable handhold to help prevent persons from falling and injuring themselves as well as aiding a person to sit on and to stand up from a toilet. This is particularly helpful in a slippery environment.

  • There are currently a wide variety of grab bar styles and colors in the consumer market. This will allow one to choose a style that matches the décor of their bathroom.

  • If space permits, install a sink basin to pre-soak laundry items which can easily be transferred to the washer or dryer.

  • Mount grab bars at appropriate locations and heights. If you are unsure as to where and what height to mount a grab bar, contact an occupational therapist or a building contractor familiar with ANSI 117-a regulations.


  • Utilize non-skid flooring materials to minimize falls and injury


  • Sinks should be mounted at a height that allows a person sitting at a sink or a wheelchair user to fit under the sink; usually a 30″ under-sink clearance is necessary.

  • Wall-mounted sinks provide the greatest access.

  • Insulate exposed pipes to prevent accidental burns # Levered handles should be used at the sink. A closed fist operation is helpful for persons with arthritis.

  • It is a good idea to install an anti-scald device to further prevent accidental burns

Bathtub & Shower:

  • They should be a minimum of 36″ wide for comfortable use by manual wheelchair users and wider for power-wheelchair users.


  • Grab bars can be used around the toilet to help with stability while sitting onto and standing from the toilet

  • Elevated toilets, ADA standard, can help those people who have difficulty sitting or bending.

  • If buying a new toilet is cost-prohibitive, buying a raised toilet seat is an inexpensive option.

  • If you are planning to use a rolling shower/commode wheelchair, keep in mind that these wheelchairs will not roll over elevated toilets

Other Considerations:

  • Install a telephone that can be reached from the floor in the bathroom. In case of a fall, you can readily call for help. A less expensive alternative is to bring in a cordless telephone whenever you bathe.

  • Cabinetry handles should facilitate ease of opening drawers and doors. A closed fist operation is a good rule of thumb.

  • Mount the toilet tissue holder at an appropriate distance.

  • Provide brighter lights to help those with impaired vision.

  • Mirrors should be mounted at a height that a seated person can view themselves. If remounting a mirror is not feasible, tilting the existing mirror at a downward angle will also work.

  • For additional solutions, contact the PVA or an occupational therapist for more information.

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