Universal Design for Accessible Backyards

Accessibility features like ramps, elevators, railings, automatic doors and Braille signage assist people with disabilities when they are out and about. While these improvements are common in most public spaces, residential areas often lack these necessary elements. However, all it takes is a few modifications to create an accessible design for your home.

If you live with someone who has a disability, your home probably has everything you need to accommodate their auditory, visual, sensory or mobility issues indoors. But, what about your garden or deck? Outdoor layouts can be difficult for people with disabilities to navigate, but adding universal design elements keeps everyone safe and comfortable while outside.

Solana White 4 Pc Outdoor Seating Set With Gray Cushions

Outdoor Structures

The first step in establishing an accessible outdoor space is to adjust the architecture of your backyard. Reworking the landscape and adding new structures makes the area approachable and safe for the whole family and your guests. Map out your design to make sure you have enough room for all the changes you want to make, then choose the most beneficial features for your backyard.

Paths

Decide which type of path best suits your family. Paved walkways are smooth and level, so they are a good choice for people who use wheelchairs, walkers and canes to get around. Self-binding gravel is firm underfoot and provides a stable surface, while slip-resistant rubber paths can help prevent falls.

You can also customize paths with size adjustments and extra features. Make sure walkways are wide enough to give wheelchair users plenty of elbow room as they enjoy their surroundings. If you’re designing a backyard for a blind family member, set up textured wall decor and lawn sculptures along the path as orientation landmarks for easier navigation.

White patio wall decor

Fences

Gates and fences are important safety features. Good fencing offers privacy and prevents stray animals from entering yards and startling those with visual and auditory impairments. Fences also discourage kids from wandering as they play outside. Depending on your needs and budget, there are different types of fences that you can select for your accessible backyard:

  • Wooden Fences: Though they can be a bit pricey, fences made of durable cedar, teak or redwood provide ample safety and privacy for your backyard. People with limited vision can use textured panels as a guide while they move around the yard. On the other hand, finished wood fences with a smooth surface may appeal to individuals who are sensitive to textures.
  • Metal and Chain-Link Fences: Chain-link and metal fences are a cost-effective choice, but they don’t offer much privacy. When selecting this type of fence, make sure small children can’t easily slip through metal bars or ensure chain-link fencing is high enough to discourage kids from climbing.
  • Vinyl Fences: Made of long-lasting, heavy-duty material, vinyl fences are a sturdy option for creating a secure backyard. White vinyl is standard, but this reflective hue can create an uncomfortable glare for people with vision and sensory issues. However, you can fix that with a fresh coat of gray, beige or navy blue paint.

solar string lights

Ramps

Ramps are essential for wheelchair users to get into and out of the house independently. They also make it easier for older adults and those with mobility issues to avoid falls common with steps. You can install a ramp right at your doorstep or set it up beside the stairs so that it leads from the landing to the lawn.

Seating Areas

Choose a safe and comfortable patio layout when designing outdoor seating areas for those with disabilities. Your furniture setup needs to be free from tripping hazards and spacious enough that everyone can move around freely. Once you’ve established safe walkways and adequate spacing, add practical and stylish furniture to create a cozy spot for outdoor relaxation.

Selecting convenient seating with functional features ensures that your backyard setup is practical and accessible. When buying patio furniture, consider items like recliners and lift chairs that help people with mobility issues sit and stand safely. Choose chaise lounges so wheelchair users can stretch out without assistance and place benches in the yard so people can relax between activities.

Rialto Brown Outdoor Chaise with Aqua Cushions, Set of 2

It is also important to choose the right furniture materials when picking sofas, sectionals and full seating sets for your backyard. Sturdy wooden or wrought iron furnishings are solid and heavy so that you can establish a predictable, long-term layout. Lightweight metal or wicker options are more suitable for those who want to rearrange the furniture from time to time.

Cindy Crawford Home Lake Tahoe Gray 4 Pc Outdoor Seating Set with Seagull Cushions

Lighting

Proper patio lighting makes it easier for everyone to enjoy back yards and gardens safely. You can decorate your patio with lights such as sconces, wall lights and table lamps to illuminate the space for people with limited night vision. Line walkways and garden paths with torches to light the way for evening walks. To accommodate sensory sensitivities, try solar lanterns and string lights for a softer glow.

outdoor lanterns with candles

Gardens

Gardening reduces stress, boosts mood and can help people improve their cognitive and sensory skills. Here are some tips on setting up an accessible garden so everyone can enjoy this fun outdoor activity.

  • Create Contained Gardens: Rather than choosing a patch of earth and planting seeds in rows, use a different planter or garden bed for each type of flower, herb or vegetable. That way, people with visual disabilities can easily differentiate between plants if needed.
  • Raise Your Flower Beds: Set flower boxes on a table so anyone can work with the plants without having to stoop down or bend over. Choose a picnic table with attached seats, or keep a chair or bar stool handy to provide a seat for longer tasks like pruning or harvesting berries. You could also use a console table and stow gardening tools on the lower shelf for easy access.
  • Use Adaptive Gardening Tools: Arthritis, tremors and other disabilities that affect motor skills require modified gardening tools that are lighter and easier to hold. Pick lightweight aluminum pieces and specialized tools that help reduce pressure and strain on the hands and wrists.

Picture of a red and blue outdoor planter pots.

Kid-Friendly Designs

Adding sensory-friendly furniture to your backyard makes spaces safe and comfortable for kids. Decide which furniture material would be best for keeping your touch-sensitive child cozy while they play outside. Use plush cushions, throw pillows and outdoor rugs so kids can choose what makes them comfortable. Neutral gray, beige and muted blue pieces also promote a calm atmosphere.

photo of a rug