4 Things You Should Know About Universal Design

When you are living with a disability, before you check out a new restaurant, book a room at a hotel or go anywhere for the first time, you always have to ask: is it accessible? Can I get in? Can I access the restroom? How about the parking lot? The door handles? It’s a lot of questions to ask – and an even bigger pain when you get there and realize the person you spoke with on the phone has a very different view on what is accessible than you do.

That’s where Universal Design comes in. The best explanation of Universal Design comes from its founder and wheelchair user Ron Mace: “Universal Design is 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.” Basically, it’s to make life easier for all people at little or no extra cost.

But beyond that definition, what is it really? Here are 4 things you probably don’t know about Universal Design – and definitely should.

Fact #1: It’s history is longer than you think. Most people think Universal Design is a modern idea, and to an extent, it is – but the roots of UD began in the 1950s. After World War II, many soldiers returned home with disabilities. They wanted to go to school and work, but physical barriers in the environment were making it nearly impossible. This demand started the barrier-free movement, which marked the beginning of changes in public policy and design practices.

Fact #2: It’s based on 7 key principles. These principles are used to guide the design process, and even evaluate existing designs to see how they can be improved. They are:

Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
Simple & Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue
Size & Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture or mobility.

Fact #3: It’s about a lot more than wheelchair ramps. Sure, wheelchair ramps are an important aspect of Universal Design – but there’s so much more to it than that. Think about door sizes, fixture controls, maneuverability. It also applies to products, like electronics, appliances and more.

Fact #4: It’s better for everybody. There is a common misconception that Universal Design is only beneficial to people living with disabilities. So not true! Seriously, who wouldn’t want wider hallways, more floor space or home automation? The idea behind Universal Design is that it can be used by everyone. Nothing is specially made or requires additional equipment or add-ons, but instead is usable by everyone in your home, regardless of ability. Sounds pretty good to us!

To learn more about Universal Design, check out the Center for Universal Design at NC State. They have tons of great resources and facts about UD. For tips on changes to make your home more accessible to everyone, check out these suggestions from Team Magee.

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