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Anatomy of an Accessible Home (working with a specialized architect) - By Ramesh Gulatee, March 2022

Planning for a new home, an addition to existing or remodeling of an existing home takes many careful considerations. This is particularly true for removal of barriers in an existing home or designing accessible home. A household with a family member w/accessibility issue faces many additional considerations to make home accessible for optimal independent living.

Points to consider for accessibility at home!!!  

Make an accessibility checklist:

A checklist allows to prioritize options to make provisions for accessible living for current & future situations and brings cost considerations in focus.

Consider flexibility in space layout:

Allow for design flexibility to accommodate, a) person/s with disabilities, b) other household members, c) changing situations and d) future needs.

Consider Integrating digital technology: Internet based wi-fi connection to sensor devices enables much autonomy to access home environment by managing/monitoring building systems, equipment and appliances.

Accessibility products & resources:

Building Industry is constantly evolving. Integrate advances in design/marketplace and the industry.

Tax write-offs & other financial incentives: Investigate w/tax consultant the medical deduction law & home accessibility upgrades relative to capital expenses.        

Where to begin!!!

  1. Understand ACA: The Accessible Canada Act/ACA’2019 is a civil legislation w/intent, goals and purpose that form the basis of barrier-free Canada by 2040. It does not apply to private homes.
  1. Understand Barrier Free Design: The concept of enabling broad-spectrum accessibility references to the use of a paradigm called “Universal Design” that facilitates creating an environment usable by all. By all means, consider an additional layer of accessibility i.e., evidence-based design, to customize what works in your particular situation.
  1. Home accessibility specialist: Consider engaging a licensed architect with knowhow and experience in home accessibility from design & construction viewpoints. It is important to remember that every situation is different, yet accessibility solutions should include the entire family irrespective of age/gender/abilities.
  2. Information Sharing: Working with a home accessibility “architect” means openly sharing information about disability issues in the family. This helps the architect to better understand concerns, priorities, preferences and aesthetics for designing accessibility solutions.

The discussion may include following:

  1. Preferences for pocket doors, lever faucets, toggle light switches, knees space under the counter, reach limits and many items the family thinks are worth discussions.
  2. Integration of digital technology to facilitate accessibility thru wi-fi connected products i.e., motion/occupancy sensors, intelligent thermostats, home security and more.

What to consider when hiring an Architect!!!

A consultation with an architect opens up dialogue to inquire and learn about the architect’s design philosophy & style. You’ll need to discuss fees, timelines, and expectations etc.

Some questions for the architect!!!

Accessibility focused architecture? This is a great question to open with, as it gets the architect talking about his/her passion and motivation to work with people with accessibility issues. It sets the mood, allowing sharing of your concerns, hopes and dreams for your home.

Availability? An architect may have a great design philosophy & a stellar portfolio, but is unreachable and is insensitive to your needs, he/she may not be the right person for the job.

Budget & Schedule? There are many issues related to construction that affect finishing within budget i.e., permit delays, unexpected conditions, builder/vendor, product availability etc. A good architect should be confident in his/her abilities to a) work with the builder/vendor/suppliers, b) keep you up to date on issues and c) be able to provide alternative options reflecting scope, schedule and budget.

Involvement during the construction phase? Depending on your project, you may hire an architect to draw up plans that your contractor will implement independently, or you may want the architect to work with the contractor from the project’s inception through to completion.

See project samples; This is a great opportunity to see an architect’s overall style. The work portfolio may include photos/drawings and may include testimonials from past clients. Review everything carefully and ask questions about the projects that look similar to your own. If desired, contact the architect’s previous clients for more insight.

Contract: Once you’ve decided to hire a home accessibility specialized architect, ask him/her to prepare a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada/RAIC professional services contract for review and execution. The contract details both your and your architect’s responsibilities. Be sure to have an attorney review the contract for modifications of conditions, if any, pertinent to scope of professional services. Here are some key conditions that should be addressed:

  • The scope of work is defined in sufficient detail.
  • A project development phase schedule is included.
  • The fee payment schedule is tied to project phases and completion
  • Project delivery & architect involvement is clearly spelled out.

General Information:

Planning for a new home or a remodeling project can be both exciting and daunting. An architect experienced in home accessibility can be just the right resource to help you & your family live comfortably in the home of your dreams. The scope of design services varies slightly depending on new construction or remodeling. However, they comprise generally of following stages.

Design/Development: (hourly basis until sign off): An order of magnitude cost estimate can be prepared at the completion of this stage.

Documents preparation: Permitting & Bids: Based on % fee basis on estimated/projected cost of construction.

Construction: The Architect’s involvement can be limited to observation and/or full oversight including project administration and management) hourly or fee percentage.


Project Delivery:

There are several delivery methodologies to choose from depending on scope of work i.e: new construction or remodeling an existing home.

  • Design/Build
  • Lump Sum (General Contractor)
  • Construction Management
  • Time & Material

The optimal choice may depend on level of your knowhow, involvement, input, availability, and ability to manage the process.

Experience has shown that sometimes a construction management delivery methodology may offer benefits of cost savings and greater project control. This allows a construction manager to engage in negotiations and manage the various trades with the understanding that savings in cost and time schedule are shared based on agreement between you and the manager. This agreement can be based on phased completion or on monthly basis.

Ramesh Gulatee, LifeCare Design Studio, LLC is an Illinois based Canadian architect with focus on home accessibility. Ramesh has practice licensures in USA & Canada where he has worked on numerous residential and housing projects. His knowhow is recognized by the regulatory, and professional bodies where he is either appointed as accessibility specialist and serves on various advisory boards at various levels.

Ramesh is a board member of the Universal Design Network of Canada.

Contact information: