Universal Design

What is Universal Design (UD)? When the concept was introduced in my class I had no idea what it meant. I could make an educated guess but could honestly say I don’t know.  According to the Center for Universal Design (CUD) at North Carolina State University, “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”.  Well that makes sense. We have been surrounded by numerous products that follow UD principles but are just not aware of it.  It helps all of us especially people with disabilities and different capabilities to perform activities of daily living.

photo/pixabay
Sidewalk tactile curb          Photo: Pixabay

An example I will use is my school, Peninsula College. Starting at the parking lot, there are spots for disabled guests, visitors, students, delivery trucks & bicycles.  There are graduated entry ramps for easy access to people on foot, a wheelchair, crutches or bikes. The same is true for building entrances, bathrooms and other facilities. I just have to be more observant to notice. But it’s a very complex approach to design. Many factors need to be considered and included in order for UD to be successful, such as:

  • What is the product that is being designed?
  • How is it going to be used?
  • Who will be the end user of the product?
  • Are there existing laws/rules/standards?
  • Is there flexibility to the design?
  • What is the proper use of the product?
  • Is training involved?
  • How do you measure the product’s effectiveness?
  • Are there cultural norms and barriers that need to be considered?

UD is not just for new builds or inventions, it can be used to address problems and challenges with existing products and environment. Implementation of UD combined with continuous process improvements will bring about new and improved goods and address product issues that will benefit us now and in the future.

Useful websites on Universal Design.

Washington University

Smart Design Worldwide

Center for Universal Design

 

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