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What is Universal Design?

What is Universal Design?

Posted In // Design Tips

Universal design – definition

People who are disabled often require special accommodations to move around and to complete tasks. The disability community has complained openly about the need for new design solutions that don’t segregate but are instead inclusive – in other words, designing with a universal approach that is geared toward meeting the needs of both able-bodied and disabled individuals.

The Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University explains that universal design is a strategy that takes into account the entire spectrum of disability, using that perspective to drive the creation of products, spaces, and technology.

“Sometimes referred to as ‘lifespan design’ or ‘transgenerational design,’ universal design encompasses and goes beyond the accessible, adaptable and barrier-free design concepts of the past,” says the CUD. “It helps eliminate the need for special features and spaces, which for some people, are often stigmatizing, embarrassing, different looking and usually more expensive.”

Examples of universal design in action include front-loading washers and dryers, automatic doors, and ramps as main routes of access (rather than having separate wheelchair entrances).

Seven universal design principles

Here are the seven principles of universal design, as developed at NCSU and described by Sheryl Burgstahler, PhD, of the University of Washington:

1. Equitable – Design is useful for everyone, including people with disabilities, as with websites equipped with screen readers for the blind.

2. Flexible – Design allows different people to engage in particular ways, such as museums with text and audio of exhibit descriptions.

3. Intuitive – It is simple to figure out how to use the environment or product, as with laboratory tools featuring buttons that are clearly marked and displayed.

4. Perceptible – An effort is made to give users access to information even when conditions block the senses, as with closed captioning for TVs in loud bars.

5. Forgiving – Design allows room for accidents, as when computer programs make suggestions if user selections seem unintended.

6. Comfortable – Design allows efficient use of the space without unnecessary strain, as exhibited by automatic doors.

7. Well-sized– Both the size and design allow for a wide variety of body types and disabilities, as with customizable workspaces that work for both left-handed and right-handed users.

Putting universal design to use

Occupational therapist and architect George Xinos explains that the common tactics to address accessibility should be considered a starting point for designers. The principles of universal design “should not act to stifle creativity and innovation in individual projects by extending opportunities to extend performance, health and wellness, inclusiveness, participation and safety,” he says.

Is universal design a strong approach for your project? At Beaux-Arts Group, it’s just one of the many strategies we use to create distinctive, high-performance workplace interiors that address the dynamic needs of our clients. View our portfolio.
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