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The Rising Importance of Universal Design for the Home and Workplace

Monday , October 7 , 2019

The Rising Importance of Universal Design for the Home and Workplace

As we all know from our everyday experiences, most homes and workplaces are not designed to suit all people. In fact, most standard designs are intended for young, fit people of able body and mind. But the human population is very diverse – and, as disability activists remind us, at best we are all “temporarily abled.”

With each passing birthday, our vision and hearing become a little bit weaker. Eventually, our mobility and muscular strength will start to go as well. We will all face these issues – they’re just a normal part of aging.

Universal design in the home and workplace isn’t just for a subgroup of people who already have health or mobility issues – it’s for all of us. We must create environments which respect the fact that different people have different needs.

What is Universal Design?

UD creates a more welcoming and usable space for all people – with and without disabilities. The easy designs provide a more accessible world for everyone. One common example is curb cuts on public sidewalks: Yes, they are helpful for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices. But they are also useful for mothers pushing strollers, travelers with rolling suitcases, or children on bicycles.  

According to the University of Buffalo,

“Universal design means planning to build physical, learning and work environments so that they are usable by a wide range of people, regardless of age, size or disability status.  While universal design promotes access for individuals with disabilities, it also benefits others.”

UD creates a more welcoming and usable space for all people – with and without disabilities. The easy designs provide a more accessible world for everyone. One common example is curb cuts on public sidewalks: Yes, they are helpful for people with wheelchairs and mobility devices. But they are also useful for mothers pushing strollers, travelers with rolling suitcases, or children on bicycles.

 

The Seven Principles of Universal Design

In 1997, a committee of 10 people, under the leadership of architect Ron Mace, wrote the seven principles of universal design. Today, these norms still act as the gold standard:

  1. Equitable Use. The design is useful to individuals with varying levels of ability. It provides the same means of use to all people (identical when possible, equal when not) and avoids segregating or stigmatizing.
  1. Flexibility in Use. The design accommodates people with a wide range of personal preferences and abilities. For example, it can accommodate right or left-handed access and adapts to a user’s individual pace.
  1. Simple and Intuitive Use. The use of design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or level of concentration. It eliminates unnecessary complications, offers intuitive design, and provides feedback and suggestions.
  2. Perceptible Information. The designs communicates necessary information to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or their sensory abilities. It uses different modes of communication (text, verbal, pictorial), maximizes “legibility” of information, and provides compatibility with a variety of devices used by people with sensory limitations. 
  1. Tolerance for Error. The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions. It provides warnings of hazards and errors, includes fail safe features, and discourages unconscious action in tasks that require vigilance. 
  1. Low Physical Effort. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. It allows users to maintain a neutral body position and minimizes repetitive actions and sustained physical effort. 
  1. Size and Space for Approach and Use. The design provides appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. It offers a clear line of sight to important elements, makes reaching to all components comfortable, and provides adequate space for the use of assistive devices – for seated or standing users.

Universal Design in the Real World

Even when the principals of universal are explained, they can be difficult to understand. In layman’s terms, it all boils down to ONE thing: The building, product, or service can be used by ALL people. Here are some illustrative examples:

  • A walk-in shower or one with no doors
  • An easy-to-press button to open an automatic door
  • Buttons or controls that can be distinguished by touch, shape, or location
  • Sinks located at different heights in a public restroom
  • Lever handles to open doors, rather than traditional knobs
  • Adaptive lighting that comes on when someone enters the room
  • Text paired with audio and diagrams for ease of understanding
  • Safety features such as non-slip floor tiles
  • Appliance, such as a microwave or coffee maker, than can be turned on with one touch

Final Thoughts

Universal Design isn’t just for the elderly or permanently disabled. As the baby boomer generation ages, there is greater need for accommodative facilities. With UD, aging in place IS possible – without sacrificing comfort or aesthetics.

Posted in: Aging

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