The Universal Design Living Laboratory (UDLL)

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Exterior view of the UDLL

The All-in-One Concept Home: Universal Design Living Laboratory, National Demonstration Home & Garden

Guest blogger Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. is an internationally known speaker, consultant, and author.   Her story illustrates the many reasons why it is so important that UD become the new normal for design and construction. 

My Story

UDLL creators Rosemarie Rosetti and Mark Leder

UDLL creators Rosemarie Rosetti and Mark Leder in their universally designed home

On June 13, 1998, my husband, Mark Leder, and I went for a bicycle ride on a rural wooded trail in Granville, OH. After riding for a few minutes, Mark thought he heard a gunshot and slowed down to investigate. As he scanned the scene he saw a large tree falling. He shouted, “Stop!” But the warning was too late. Instantly, I was crushed by a 3 ½ ton tree and paralyzed from the waist down.

Coming home from the hospital in a manual wheelchair after my spinal cord injury, I realized how my two-story home intensified my disability.

I was unable to:

  • come and go out of any door independently
  • roll on the carpet
  • fit through bathroom doorways
  • reach the clothes in my closet
  • reach glasses and dishes in the kitchen
  • use the oven or microwave
  • get food out of the freezer
  • access food in the pantry
  • take a shower or bath independently
  • do the laundry
  • get to the second floor or basement
  • access any of the landscape

My husband and I knew that we had to sell our home and find something more suitable.

In September of 2004, we hired architect Patrick Manley to draw the house plans for our new home in Columbus, Ohio. In January 2005, Mark and I were encouraged by our mastermind group to make our home a national demonstration home and garden, acquire corporate sponsors, and open it for tours to the public.

We hired S. Robert August in October 2005 to help us with branding, marketing, and contacting international and national corporations to partner with us by contributing products and services. He named our home the Universal Design Living Laboratory. (

Mark and I bought an acre and a half lot in December of 2006 and continued with the planning and design process. We hired interior designers Mary Jo Peterson and Anna Lyon. We broke ground on September 23, 2009.

Exterior view of the UDLL

The handsome Prairie style exterior with thoughtful enabling details such as porte-cochere and zero-step entry.

This home is the top rated universal design home in North America. We followed the guidelines for three national universal design certifications programs and achieved all three certifications: Livable Design, ZeroStep and Life-Flex Home. We also followed the guidelines for green building construction. The home received a silver rating on LEED for Homes, and a gold rating on the National Green Building Standard program.

On May 18, 2012 we moved into our new home. We acquired 217 contributors of products and services. Mark and I have personally funded the UDLL and served as the general contractors with Mark doing much of the work himself.


Supporting Independence

As others plan to remodel or build a new home, independence, accessibility, safety, convenience and usability features need to be top of mind in the design phase. Here are guidelines to create homes that make life easier for the homeowner, especially if that person uses a wheelchair for mobility.

To create independence, there should be no-step exterior entrances at all doors or a minimum of one no-step entrance. Each of the door thresholds should be low, less than ½”. Exterior and interior doors should be 36” wide. For multiple story homes, an elevator or stair lift will be needed. Hard surface flooring such as hardwood, tile or linoleum is preferred by people who use wheelchairs to get around.

Universal Design Features in the Kitchen

UDLL Kitchen

UD is not institutional! This gorgeous kitchen would be a welcome addition in any home.

Universal design features in the kitchen include the overall design of the circulation pattern, cabinet design, countertop height and appliance selection. Allow for a 5’ turning radius throughout the kitchen to allow a person who uses a wheelchair the ability to do a 360° turnaround.

Side hinged ovens are preferred to those hinged at the bottom. Place ovens where they can be reached by someone who uses a wheelchair.

Typically, kitchen countertops are installed at 36”. Consider having multiple countertop heights to accommodate a diverse population such as 40”, 34” and 30”. A person who remains seated is likely to prefer a 30” countertop with knee space underneath.

A pot filler and three burners with a variety of features at a roll-under counter enable cooking by both Rosemarie (seated) and Mark (standing).

Be mindful of where electrical outlets and light switches are located to insure that the seated person can also reach them. Plan to have

at least 50 percent of the storage space accessible from a seated position. Include pull out drawers and shelves in the cabinets so people have an easier time reaching the contents.

The cooktop and sink need to have knee space underneath for access. This knee space can be in the initial design of the lower cabinets or the cabinet doors can be removed later to accommodate the wheelchair user.

Cooktop controls need to be at the front so users don’t reach across a hot surface. The control panel for the ventilation fan and light needs to be at waist height. Raising a dishwasher 15 – 18 inches off the floor eliminates the need to bend down low when loading and unloading. A side-by-side refrigerator/freezer is reachable from a seated position.

Universal Design Features in the Bathroom

A curbless shower is a must have feature in the bathroom. The shower needs to be large enough to accommodate an easy transfer for a person with a disability. Our shower is 4’ X 7’. Be mindful that an assistant may be needed so provide space for this person. A shower chair/bench could be mounted on the wall or the person can use a portable one. Install an adjustable height handheld shower nozzle. Use blocking or plywood on the walls in the shower and next to the toilets for the installation of grab bars. Toilets with seats that are 17–18” off the floor are easier to get on and off.

Universal Design Features in the Laundry Room

Make sure there is navigation space with a 5’ turning radius throughout the room. A front loading washer and dryer on pedestal drawers positions these appliances to be accessible for a standing or seated person. For hand washing, it is convenient to have a sink with knee space underneath.

Improved Quality of Life beyond Independence

By following universal design guidelines, a home will provide an improved quality of life for all occupants, not only those with disabilities. In addition to having more freedom in a home due to universal design, a home may also provide improved convenience, safety, restore human dignity, and provide peace of mind.

To contact Rosemarie and learn about her speaking services, go to: To learn about her home, the Universal Design Living Laboratory, and to get a free chapter of her upcoming book the Universal Design Toolkit go to

Copyright by Rosemarie Rossetti, Ph.D. 2017