Universal design refers to a broad-spectrum solution that produces buildings, products and environments that are usable and effective for everyone, not just people with disabilities.
It emerged from barrier free or accessible design and recognizes the importance of how things look. For example, while built up handles are a way to make utensils more usable for people with gripping limitations, some companies introduced larger, easy to grip and attractive handles as feature of mass produced utensils. They appeal to a wide range of consumers.
As life expectancy rises and modern medicine has increased the survival rate of those with significant injuries, illnesses and birth defects, there is a growing interest in universal design. There are many industries in which universal design is having strong market penetration but there are many others in which it has not yet been adopted to any great extent.
Universal design is a part of everyday living and is all around us. The undo command in most software products is a good example.Color contrast dish ware with steep sides that assist those with visual problems as well as those with dexterity problems are another. Additional examples include cabinets with pull-out shelves, kitchen counters at several heights to accommodate different tasks and postures and low-floor buses that kneel and are equipped with ramps rather than lifts.
The Principles of Universal Design
“The authors, a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers, collaborated to establish the following Principles of Universal Design to guide a wide range of design disciplines including environments, products, and communications.”
These principles are broader than those of accessible design.
- Smooth ground surfaces of entranceway’s, without stairs
- Wide interior doors and hallways
- Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs
- Light switches with large flat panels rather than small toggle switches
- Buttons on control panels that can be distinguished by touch
- Bright and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting
- Auditory output redundant with information on visual displays
- Visual output redundant with information in auditory output
- Contrast controls on visual output
- Use of meaningful icons as well as text labels
- Clear lines of sight (to reduce dependence on sound)
- Volume controls on auditory output
- Speed controls on auditory output
- Choice of language on speech output
- Ramp access in swimming pools
- Closed captioning on television networks