‘Really good design should allow people to be as independent as possible’

Smart, accessible design should let everyone live as independently as possible.

Smart, accessible design should let everyone live as independently as possible, but may require you to make adaptions in your home, like keeping underneath the bathroom basin clear for wheelchairs. - Credit: wallsandfloors.co.uk

Interior designer Audrey Whelan offers tips and considerations for retrofitting your home with accessible design.

For people with disabilities, the fact most older properties were built with the ‘average’ person can prohibit them from carrying out simple tasks such as grabbing a spoon or turning a light on, and from living in their homes with comfort and ease.  

However, smart, inclusive design can enable people with disabilities to live the best life they can, explains interior designer Audrey Whelan of Audrey Whelan Design.  

“Really good design should allow people to be as independent as possible,” she says. “If, due to the extent of the disability, a person can’t be fully independent, it should then let them carry out the tasks they can do.” 

Design should be based around how people actually do things Audrey goes on to say, adding: “Unfortunately for people with disabilities, that’s not always how it happens – it’s an afterthought in a lot of places.” 

Period homes in particular can be problematic for people who have disabilities, so here, Audrey outlines some key considerations when retrofitting an older property with accessible design. 


If the bathroom is too small to accommodate a wheelchair, or you can’t get up the stairs, think about bringing the bathroom downstairs.  
Consider creating a walk-in shower, without the raised tray in the shower recess, so that there are no trip hazards. 

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Expanding on this idea, make the bathroom a wet room, with tiles over the whole floor which are on a slight incline around the drain hole to encourage the water to flow the right way. 

Install a shower seat or keep a stool in the bathroom to use while showering. 

Visual contrasts 

Visual contrasts are important for people who have impaired vision, particularly around entryways. “You must have contrast around doorways and step so people can see those areas,” says Audrey, “and navigate potential hazards or eliminate them.” 

Changing the colour around a light switch or plug so it stands out against a white wall is also something to be mindful of, too.

Textural contrasts 

Differing textures are also important. Different textures for different surfaces or areas can help people navigate a more profound disability or enable the person to carry out a finicky aspect of life, such as knowing which tray in the washing machine to pour detergent in, or organising the cutlery drawer in the kitchen.