Interior designers and home builders around the world have increasingly focused on accessibility and universal design principles, and for good reason. Over a quarter of Americans live with a disability, and even a few small changes can make a big difference when it comes to safely and comfortably navigating your daily activities.

But it isn’t just our home interiors that need to adapt to our needs. Our outdoor spaces should also be safe, easily navigable, and enjoyable. At Blessing Landscapes, we use accessible landscape design principles to create inclusive and customized outdoor spaces in the Portland community. If your yard isn’t working for you, we can help you transform it into a beautiful, functional oasis that truly feels like part of your home.


Understanding Inclusive Landscape Dynamics

Two children and grandparents seated on a patio

Diverse User Needs

Truly accessible landscape design should be informed by the specific needs of the user. When we think of accessible outdoor spaces, we might first think of eliminating stairs or adding railings for pathways. But installing outdoor lighting and planting hedges for noise control and privacy can be equally important, depending on the homeowner’s needs.

According to the CDC, about 27% of Americans are impacted by at least one type of disability. Here’s a breakdown of the most common functional disability types among American adults:

  • 12.8% have a serious cognitive disability.
  • 12.1% have a serious mobility disability.
  • 7.2% have an independent living disability.
  • 6.1% are deaf or have significant difficulty hearing.
  • 4.8% are blind or have a serious vision disability.
  • 3.6% have a self-care disability.

Adaptable Design for All Ages

Individual needs and abilities differ substantially, even within the same demographic groups. While aging-in-place landscape design is a fundamental component of creating accessible landscapes, it doesn’t tell the whole story, and even among the older adult population, needs can vary quite a bit.

Inclusive and accessible landscape design is about creating adaptable outdoor spaces that cater to the needs of users at different stages of life and with different needs. For example, children need a safe, enclosed outdoor area for play, while grown ups of all abilities may benefit from comfortable outdoor seating, raised garden beds, and level pathways for walking.

Integrating Universal Design Principles

Modern Spa Oasis

Universal design is defined by the UD Project as “design that’s usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

Barrier-Free Garden Concepts

Whether you have a green thumb yourself or simply enjoy spending time in a beautiful outdoor setting, an accessible garden can help you maximize your landscape by adding both aesthetic and practical value. Fortunately, there are many barrier-free garden designs that can make your space more universal.

For example, reaching down to care for ground-level plants can be uncomfortable and impractical, especially for wheelchair users and those with mobility concerns. Raised beds, vertical gardens, and hanging planters allow for greater ease of access since they’re higher up. It can also be helpful to expand areas of separation between plants so those with wheelchairs and walking aids can more easily maneuver through their gardens.

Inclusive Hardscaping Solutions

Hardscapes (non-living features) play a vital role in adding beauty and accessibility to outdoor spaces. Incorporating hardscapes into your Portland landscape can offer increased functionality and safety for diverse abilities, needs, and preferences.

Here are a few accessible hardscape features to consider for your universal design:

  • Wheelchair ramps
  • Non-slip pathways
  • Retaining walls to even out sloped yards
  • Railings
  • Outdoor lighting for nighttime visibility
  • Abundant seating
  • Tactile signage and markers

Plant Selection for Diversity and Enjoyment

children in garden

When we think of accessibility in outdoor spaces, we tend to focus on physical safety measures. But plant life can be an essential element of creating a truly universal landscape design.

Sensory and Multi-Sensory Planting

A sensory garden is an outdoor space designed to stimulate multiple or all of the five senses (sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch).

Embracing a sensory-focused approach to planting can provide a more engaging experience for those of all ages and abilities. It can also reduce stress and improve overall emotional well-being! Sensory planting can be especially beneficial for neurodivergent folks and those with cognitive disabilities.

Here are a few ways to incorporate sensory planting in your design:

  • Sight: Choose plants with diverse colors, sizes, and shapes.
  • Sound: Consider adding a water feature such as a fountain or waterfall.
  • Touch: Utilize contrasting textures such as spongy moss, smooth petals, and coarse leaves.
  • Smell: Opt for fragrant flowers and herbs such as rosemary, lavender, and jasmine.
  • Taste: Add delicious and nutritious vegetables, fruits, and herbs to your garden.

Biodiversity for Inclusive Enjoyment

A universal outdoor design can be enjoyed by everyone, including our animal friends! Landscaping for biodiversity not only adds beauty to your garden, but it also helps the environment by contributing to the natural ecosystem.

If you want to prioritize biodiversity in your landscape design, it’s always a good idea to opt for native plants that act as a food source for insects, birds, and other critters. Here are a few examples of plants that attract wildlife and contribute to Portland’s natural beauty:

Creating Safe and Comfortable Outdoor Living Spaces

People with all abilities can benefit from outdoor living spaces that encourage us to spend time in nature. Spending time outdoors benefits our health and wellness in a number of ways. It can improve our cognition, help us breathe better, boost our immune functioning, and even reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Seamless Transitions Between Zones

When we think of outdoor living, we generally think of a large deck or patio with lounge chairs, a dining area, a grill, or maybe even a fire pit. But your outdoor living spaces don’t have to follow any particular blueprint.

One excellent approach is to create several smaller outdoor living areas that function as “calm zones” in your yard, with seamless transitions between each of these areas. For example, you may opt to place two comfortable chairs under calming twinkle lights where you can enjoy your morning coffee, with a paved pathway that leads to a separate area with benches surrounding a small pond or bubbling waterfall for evening relaxation and reflection.

Ergonomic Furnishings and Decor

Beautiful outdoor furniture is effectively useless if it isn’t comfortable and convenient for you to use. The furnishings and decor you choose should accommodate your specific needs. That’s why it’s almost always a good idea to try using a piece of outdoor furniture before you purchase it.

Here are examples of ergonomic furnishings and decor for landscaping:

  • Upholstered chairs for comfort
  • Seating that’s the right height and size for you
  • Roll-away tables for eating or playing board games
  • Dining tables with umbrellas to minimize glare and keep you dry
  • Wheelchair-accessible tables
  • Extra lighting where you need it

The Blessing Landscapes Approach to Accessibility

Inclusive and accessible landscape design is all about making a person’s outdoor spaces work for them, and not the other way around. At Blessing Landscapes, we take a personalized approach to landscaping for all of our clients, regardless of their needs and abilities. A standardized one-size-fits-all approach to landscaping simply doesn’t yield good results.

That’s why we developed our design/build process to ensure your results and your experience meets your specific needs and goals. By working with a Portland landscaping company like Blessing Landscapes that gives special attention to the needs of users, you can avoid ending up with a standardized result that just doesn’t accommodate you and your family.

We also offer ongoing maintenance services to keep your landscape beautiful and functional for years to come!

Let Us Help You Transform Your Portland Yard Into Your Own Personal Oasis!

Your outdoor spaces should be comfortable, easy to navigate, and truly enjoyable. Maybe you or a loved one is living with a disability. Maybe you’re planning to age in place in your home. Maybe you suffer from anxiety and want to create a calming outdoor space to help you relax. Or maybe you just want to have a garden that will be comfortable and fun for anyone who visits!

Whatever the reason, Blessing Landscapes can help you design and build the perfect inclusive and accessible landscape that meets all your needs while adding natural beauty to your life! Contact us today with any questions you have, to tell us about your ideas, or to schedule a consultation or landscape maintenance!