DisABILITY Series - Universal Design

Submitted by Shane on

How Does Universal Design Benefit Disabled Individuals?

Universal design is a concept that refers to designing products, buildings, and the environment in general to be accessible or usable by the largest spectrum of people. It means that the product, building, or environment should be designed such that it can be used or accessed by an individual of any age, or whether able or disabled. In short, universal design seeks to have products, buildings, and environments that can be used and accessed by anyone.

Universal design ensures that whatever is designed—whether a product, a building, or the environment—takes consideration of the needs of everyone in society, including the disabled. This is especially important to help individuals with disabilities lead lives that are as normal as possible and allow them to become and to feel self-reliant. Universal design can therefore be applied at home, in public areas, and on business premises.

Universal design has various benefits for disabled individuals. These benefits include:

  • Increased accessibility
  • Ease of movement
  • Increased safety

Principles of Universal Design

Principle One – Equitable Use

Equitable use means that the design should be useful and marketable to all individuals, regardless of their abilities. If the design cannot accommodate identical means for all users, at least the means of access should be equivalent.

Principle Two – Flexibility in Use

Flexibility in use means the design should be flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of users, regardless of their abilities. In addition, design flexibility should provide a choice in how each function can be used. For example, a door handle should be able to accommodate both right- or left-handed people.

Principle Three – Simple and Intuitive Use

Simple and intuitive use means that the design should be easy to understand, regardless of the user’s knowledge, skills, or experience. The design should eliminate unnecessary complexity and should be able to meet users’ expectations.

Principle Four – Perceptible Information

Perceptible information means that the design should effectively communicate necessary information to the users. The various methods of presentation that can be used include:

  • Pictorial
  • Verbal
  • Tactile

Principle Five – Tolerance for Error

Tolerance for error means that the design should minimize adverse consequences of accidental actions. That is, the function should be designed to minimize hazards or errors and to provide warnings of the possible hazards and errors.

Principle Six – Low Physical Effort

Low physical effort means that the design should allow efficient usage and should be comfortable to use, with minimum fatigue. Specifically, it should allow the user to maintain a neutral position and avoid unnecessary, repetitive actions.

Principle Seven – Size and Space for Approach and Use.

The design should provide for enough size and space for anyone to approach (reach), manipulate, and use the designed function, regardless of their body’s size or mobility capacity.

Universal Design in the United States

Universal design is used and seen in the United States in various ways, including in homes, businesses, and public areas.

Various ways in which universal design has been incorporated into residences include such things as the installation of lower countertops and adjustable shower heads, as well as using door pulls instead of doorknobs and installing cabinets of varied heights.

In business and public areas, universal design is seen in wide hallways, which enable and facilitate wheelchair access. In addition, universal design would avoid changing floor heights and or installing ramps for wheelchair movement. There is also the installation of bathroom facilities that can be used by the disabled.

Universal design in the United States ensures:

  • Ease of access
  • Ease in usability
  • Less accidents caused by safety hazards

Laws and Regulations Governing Universal Design

In addition to the common sense of universal design, many cities and counties in the United States have enacted laws, ordinances, and regulations that are used to govern universal design and make sure that everyone, including individuals with disabilities, has ease of access.

Most laws on universal design address the issue of accessibility. The laws require the design of public areas and business areas include provisions that enable people with disabilities to move around easily, for example, providing enough space for wheelchair access. The laws on universal design seek to ensure:

  • Accessibility for people with disabilities
  • Safety for everyone
  • Ease of movement for everyone in business or public areas

Such laws and regulations also require monitoring construction work, starting at the design stage, to ensure that measures are put in place to make sure the building will be accessible to everyone and that amenities cater to the disabled.

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