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Understanding Accessible Interior Design: Answers to FAQs

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As a commercial interior designer, you have a lot of factors to consider, including who will be using a particular building. On top of the client’s budget, available space, and aesthetics, you should take into account accessibility. After all, people’s abilities vary. So, you need to ensure a space is functional, comfortable, and welcoming for all. That’s why having knowledge of accessible interior design is key. 

If you’re not as familiar with this side of design, you’re in the right place! We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions (and answers) about accessibility in interior design. By educating yourself about this topic, you can make sure every one of your projects is both beautiful and accessible. 

Let’s dive in…

What Is Accessible Interior Design?

Accessible interior design involves creating physical spaces that are safe, comfortable, and functional for those with disabilities. It’s about taking steps to ensure those individuals, in particular, can use the space efficiently. Ultimately, a room—or an entire building—designed with accessibility in mind should meet the varying needs of the people within it. 

During this process, you basically put yourself in other people’s shoes. As a designer, you have to think about the potential challenges someone with visual or mobility impairments could face. Most importantly, you have to avoid adding any barriers that could prevent access. 

How Is It Different from Universal Design?

There’s a lot of overlap between universal and accessible design. Plus, some use the terms to describe the same thing. This is where it can get confusing. Both concepts focus on making spaces more easily usable by people. However, they can differ in terms of the people they’re geared toward.

Essentially, universal design can be very broad, taking a wide range of people and characteristics into consideration. Accessible design, on the other hand, gives special attention to those with visual, mobility, or other impairments. 

What Is an Example of Accessibility in Interior Design?

A purple ADA sign that reads in case of fire do not use elevators from Erie Custom Signs’ Marshall Series.

If you enter any public building, you’ll probably see a dozen examples of accessible interior design at work. Over the years, the push for public spaces to provide equal access to everyone has increased significantly. It’s so common that you may not even realize a feature or layout is in place to accommodate those with disabilities. 

A good example of accessibility in interior design is the presence of ADA-compliant signage. Signs with large text, pictograms, and braille are there to help people who are blind or visually impaired. They identify rooms and provide directions to make navigation easier.

Some additional examples include the following:

Why Is Accessible Interior Design Important?

It’s easy to see why accessible interior design is important. It ensures that spaces meet the needs of people with disabilities. And it’s part of the population that can’t be ignored. Research shows that roughly 12 million people 40 years and over in the U.S. have some vision impairment. Additionally, 11.1% of U.S. adults have a mobility disability. Chances are, your clients will do business with such individuals. So, it just makes sense to consider that when designing or revamping a space.

But that’s not all…

Here are some specific reasons to prioritize accessibility in interior design:

In the U.S., businesses open to the public are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They must make reasonable accommodations to provide access to those with disabilities. This means having the proper signs, clearance, fixtures, and other elements covered in the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Otherwise, businesses can be fined tens of thousands of dollars. 

Along with fines, failing to follow ADA guidelines can result in lawsuits. If a business isn’t ADA compliant, the owner could be sued by someone with disabilities who files a complaint. It’s not just the potential financial consequences to look out for either; a lawsuit could seriously affect a business’s reputation. 

With accessible interior design, you can create a welcoming environment for a client’s visitors, customers, and staff. Taking steps to accommodate people with disabilities shows that a business cares. And that can go a long way. 

What Accessibility Best Practices to Keep in Mind

When designing a space, it’s important to follow the ADA Standards for Accessible Design and International Building Code (IBC) requirements. Most of those are tackled during architectural design and construction. However, there are some ADA-compliant design principles for you to consider too.

Along with those specific guidelines, there are some general best practices to keep in mind. 

For instance…

  1. Think about functionality. 

Any space you work on should be functional. With every design decision you make, think about if it could cause problems for those with disabilities. If pathways aren’t clear, you may need to adjust furniture placement. Or, if desks sit too high, you may need to choose alternatives. 

  1. Emphasize safety.

Safety should be a primary concern in your design. If there are any elements that could cause injury, make sure to address them beforehand. This could mean raising hanging light fixtures or installing non-slip flooring options. 

  1. Design for low physical effort.

Determine whether any part of a client’s new space may require a lot of physical effort. If cabinets are too high up or doorknobs have to be twisted, some people may struggle. In those cases, placement and design should be reconsidered. 

  1. Communicate with ease. 

Communication may not seem like a big part of accessible interior design, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. As touched on above, the right signage can provide visually impaired people with information through large or tactile characters. You should consider where you can give other visual and auditory cues too.

  1. Aim for smooth transitions. 

Smooth transitions aren’t just great for aesthetic purposes; they’re also great for accessibility. Having similar flooring from one room to the next can benefit people with visual and mobility impairments. It makes it easier to navigate the building. 


By positioning yourself as an expert in accessible interior design, you can set yourself apart from other industry professionals. Your designs will be more functional for those with disabilities, and your clients will be happier with your work. So, use the information provided here to start prioritizing accessibility. And if you find yourself in need of ADA signage, don’t forget Erie Custom Signs can help! We have a wide range of predesigned sign packages (aka families) that you can customize to fit any client’s space.

Filed Under: ADA Signage, Design and Customization

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