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Universal Design: Design for the People

Universal Design

Universal Design ~ Friends and Pioneers

Years ago, I heard Tom Morrison, who was then the Executive Director of United Cerebral Palsy center in Dallas, tell about attending a university in the 1950’s. Morrison himself had cerebral palsy and walked with “c.p. moves,” as he called them.  At the university, he found absolutely no accommodations for mobility impaired persons. Buildings had stairs, long hallways, narrow doors, and classes were scheduled throughout the campus with no regard to the route one had to travel to get there on time.

Morrison, with a sense of adventure and great humor, found ways to cope through his own ingenuity. He had his buddies carry him upstairs, if necessary. He bragged that he knew all the freight elevators and janitors on the campus, because the janitors were the gatekeepers to the elevators which made getting through his days a little easier.  He found that back doors and basement floors were his ways to access what other students took for granted: just getting inside the door.

Today, we all appreciate the pioneers of the rights of disabled persons, such as Tom Morrison.  In 1963, Selwyn Goldsmith was the author of a book which set forth the concept of free access to all buildings for disabled people. Ronald L. Mace of North Carolina State University   coined the term “universal design.”  Through these thinkers and doers, further developments were made and the American Disability Act (ADA), was made possible.

Both public buildings and many private residences today have built-in accessibility and are designed with people of all kinds of capabilities in mind. Universal design is increasingly popular and common. Here’s a little of what universal design entails.

Definition of Universal Design:

“Universal Design:  The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.

Home Modification:  Adaptations to products and environments that enhance comfort, safety, accessibility to increase functional independence and quality of life and decrease potential injury and safety hazards to all people with Universal Design principles.”
 The Center for Universal Design; North Carolina State University

These seven principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the design process, and educate both designer and consumer about the characteristics of more usable products and environments.

Seven Universal Design Principles

  1. Equitable UseUniversal design - Impossible stairs

    • Wider doorways accommodate all users. Useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. Provisions for safety, security and privacy. Design appealing to all users.
  2. Flexibility in Use

    • Accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities. Wheelchair accessible sinks, toilets and baths.
  3. Simple and Intuitive

    • The design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level. Faucet handles labeled with symbols or colors. Light switches with large flat on/off panels.
  4. Perceptible Information

    • The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
  5. Tolerance for Error

    • The design reduces hazards of accidental or unintended actions. Slip-resistant surface in bottoms of bathtubs.
  6. Low Physical Effort

    • Ramps instead of stairs at entrances. Can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

    • Space to turn around, and adequate clearance to approach and use stove-tops and kitchen sinks.  Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

Universal Design has affected architecture, legislation, and environment and product design and has spurred innovations and inventions.  It has opened doors for access to all people, whether those doors are at the university, the workplace, or their own home. Here is a good article from AARP about applying U.D. to your home.

If you have a story about how universal design has affected your life, let us know.

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