The discussion about aging, housing, and independence is not a new one. However, the size of the baby boom generation has brought it into the national spotlight. Here we introduce a key theme emerging from this discussion—Universal Design—and provide some background we will expand upon in future posts.
Universal Design involves designing products and spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people possible. Universal Design evolved from Accessible Design, a design process that addresses the needs of people with disabilities. Universal Design goes further by recognizing that there is a wide spectrum of human abilities. Everyone, even the most able-bodied person, passes through childhood, periods of temporary illness, injury, and old age. By designing for this human diversity, we can create things that will be easier for all people to use.
Who Does Universal Design Benefit?
Universal Design takes into account the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes. By designing for this diversity, we can create things that are more functional and more user-friendly for everyone. For instance, curb cuts at sidewalks were initially designed for people who use wheelchairs, but they are now also used by pedestrians with strollers or rolling luggage. Curb cuts have added functionality to sidewalks that we can all benefit from.
What can be Universally Designed?
- Universal Design can apply to anything that can be designed, including products like door handles, kitchen utensils and smartphones.
- Universal Design can be applied to architecture and the built environment, including public and commercial buildings, as well as residential buildings and family homes.
- Universal Design can also help older adults concerned with Aging in Place by designing products and spaces that are safer and easier for them to use.
- Universal Design can also be applied to the community at large through urban planning and public transportation.
Universal Design vs. the Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a piece of legislation that protects the civil rights of people with disabilities by ensuring that they are not unfairly denied access to job opportunities, goods or services due to their disability. The ADA includes the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which outlines accessibility requirements for buildings and facilities. There is a great deal of overlap between what is required under the ADA and what would be suggested by Universal Design, but there are also differences. The ADA outlines the bare minimum necessary in order to curb discrimination against people with disabilities, while Universal Design strives to meet the best practices for design, which are always evolving and improving as we continue to learn more about how to best meet people’s different needs. The ADA focuses solely on the civil rights of people with disabilities, while Universal Design is designed with everyone in mind. The ADA does not apply to single-family residences, while Universal Design can and should. Click here to learn more about the ADA and other accessibility regulations in this country and around the world.
Want to Learn More About Universal Design?
The term Universal Design was coined by Ronald L. Mace, founder and former program director of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. In 1997, Ron Mace collaborated with a group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental designers to develop the Seven Principles of Universal Design. Read more about the Seven Principles as well as other definitions of Universal Design collected from organizations around the world.