Understanding Universal Design and Lighting

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Over the past couple of months AAA Sponsor, NATSPEC, introduced us to Universal design principles, which gives greater accessibility to people of different ages and abilities. This month they are highlighting lighting in residential design.

By Emma Green, NATSPEC Communications

Lighting is a crucial design element. In residential design, we need a level of lighting that is appropriate for each task and for each space’s purpose.

When applying the principles of universal design, lighting becomes an essential way to ensure safety and comfort. Universal design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible and usable to all people of different ages and abilities over time, without the need for adaptation or specialised design.

In order to navigate through a home, you need a suitable level of lighting. Inadequate lighting lowers a person’s ability to identify hazards and obstructions. It can also affect communication for people who are deaf or hard of hearing if they rely on lip reading or sign language.

Lighting’s effects on different materials must be taken into account. Harsh, direct lighting can cause glare and visual fatigue. Diffuse lighting, anti-glare devices and shading devices are useful ways to improve light quality. Colour temperature affects visual acuity. Privileging natural light where possible can make a space more liveable.

If it is not well positioned, a lighting element can become a hazard. Strip lighting installed under cupboards may be problematic for people with a lower vantage point. Similarly, lighting controls should be located at an appropriate height. Push pads may be easier to operate than standard light switches.

For safety and convenience, bathrooms, hallways, entrances and outdoor areas can benefit from motion sensor lighting. However, as lighting requirements vary from person to person and from activity to activity, it is important to have manual overrides for any automatic lighting.

As lighting is so important for safety, comfort and communication, stipulations must be included in project documentation. The new NATSPEC TECHnote DES 042 Universal Design: Lighting provides further information for architects. Applying the principles of universal design when specifying lighting is a simple way to improve a home’s usability for everyone.


NATSPEC is a not-for-profit organisation owned by Government and industry. It maintains the National Building Specification and has been a valued part of the Australian construction industry for over 45 years.

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  • Image: Residential lighting (Photographer: Michael Browning, Published 12 May 2017, Upsplash)