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Universal Design

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“Disability is God given, Handicap is man made”

There cannot be full inclusion without utilising the principles of Universal Design… But what is Universal Design?

Universal Design is a worldwide movement based on the concept that all products, environments and communications should be designed to consider the needs of the widest possible array of users.  Universal Design is also known around the world as “design for all”, “inclusive design” and “lifespan design”

Universal design is a way of thinking about design that is based on the following premises:

  • Varying ability is not a special condition of the few but a common characteristic of being human and we change physically and intellectually throughout our lives;
  • If a design works well for people with disabilities, it works better for everyone;
  • At any point in our lives, personal self-esteem, identity, and well-being are deeply affected by our ability to function in our physical surroundings with a sense of comfort, independence and control.
  • Usability and aesthetics are mutually compatible.

Universal Design asks from the outset how to make the design work beautifully and seamlessly for as many people as possible. It seeks to consider the breadth of human diversity across the lifespan to create design solutions that work for all users.

Universal Design in practice.

Universal Design differs from “accessible design” as accessible design means products and buildings that are accessible and usable by people with disabilities. Universal design means products and buildings that are accessible and usable by everyone--older people as well as young, women as well as men, left handed persons as well as right handed persons. 

Accessible design has a tendency to lead to separate facilities—for example, a ramp set off to the side of a stairway at an entrance or a wheelchair accessible toilet stall. Universal design, on the other hand, provides one solution that can accommodate all people.  It simply acknowledges disability, aging, and other differences as a part of everyday life.

Universal design links directly to the political concept of an inclusive society and its importance has been recognized by governments, business and industry.  As life expectancy rises and modern medicine has increased the survival rate of those with significant injuries, illnesses and birth defects, there is a growing interest in universal design.

The seven principals of Universal Design.*

The seven principles* may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process and educate both designers and consumers about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.  The guidelines however may not all be relevant to all designs.

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  1. Equitable Use - Design for everyone and every ability.
  2. Flexibility in Use - Flexible design and choices.
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use - Design that's simple and easy to use.
  4. Perceptible Information - Design that naturally makes sense.
  5. Tolerance for Error - Design that protects users.
  6. Low Physical Effort - Design that requires minimal exertion.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use - Design that works for all shapes and sizes.

* Compiled by advocates of universal design, listed in alphabetical order:
Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, Gregg Vanderheiden. 
© Center for Universal Design,  School of Design, North Carolina State University

Credit for much of the above content on UD belongs to the following websites:

www.adaptiveenvironments.org/index.php?Itemid=37&option=Project
www.ncpedp.org/access/univ-desgn.htm
www.design.ncsu.edu:8120/cud/univ_design/princ_overview.htm
www.design.ncsu.edu:8120/cud/univ_design/udhistory.htm