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Universal Design: Seniors & Disability Information

  • Synopsis: Information covering universal design also called barrier-free accessible design and assistive technology for seniors and people with a disability.

Definition: Universal Design

(Inclusive design) - Refers to broad-spectrum ideas meant to produce buildings, products and environments that are inherently accessible to older people, people without disabilities, and people with disabilities. Universal design emerged from slightly earlier barrier-free concepts, the broader accessibility movement, and adaptive and assistive technology and also seeks to blend aesthetics into these core considerations.

Main Document

Universal design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation.

Universal design is a relatively new paradigm that emerged from "barrier-free" or "accessible design" and "assistive technology." Other terms for Universal Design used around the world include Design For All, Inclusive Design, and Barrier-Free Design. Terminology and meanings differ from one country to another.

Universal design differs from accessibility requirements in that accessibility requirements are usually prescriptive whereas universal design is performance based. Universal design does not have standards or requirements but addresses usability issues such as accessible home design for seniors and persons with a disability.

Rather than focus on adapting things for individuals at a later time, an accessible universally designed learning environments are created to be accessible to everyone from the beginning. When designers apply universal design principles, their products and services meet the needs of potential users with a wide variety of characteristics. Disability is just one of many characteristics that an individual might possess.

Barrier free design and assistive technology provide a level of accessibility for people with disabilities but they also often result in separate and stigmatizing solutions, for example, a ramp that leads to a different entry to a building than a main stairway.

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.

Universal design strives to be a broad-spectrum solution that helps everyone, not just people with disabilities.

Universal design is assuming growing importance as a new paradigm that represents a holistic and integrated approach to design ranging in scale, for example, from product design to architecture and urban design, and from simple systems such as those that control the ambient environment to complex information technologies.

Universal design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, regardless of age, ability, or situation. It serves people who are young or old, with excellent or limited abilities, in ideal or difficult circumstances. Universal design benefits everyone by accommodating limitations.

As the worlds population ages, so does the demand for senior appropriate homes, renovations, and assistive devices. Universal design can help builders and re-modelers address the needs of their older clients, and builders focused on building houses for every need.

Centers for Universal Design provide information, technical assistance, and research center that evaluates, develops, and promotes accessible and universal design in housing, commercial and public facilities, outdoor environments, and products.

The seven Principles that describe characteristics that make designs universally usable are:

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.

In order to design for the general population, it is important to understand diversity, problems, tools, and abilities.

Quick Facts: Design for All

The origin of Design for All lies in the field of barrier free accessibility for people with disabilities and the broader notion of universal design. The term Design for All (DfA) is used to describe a design philosophy targeting the use of products, services and systems by as many people as possible without the need for adaptation. "Design for All is design for human diversity, social inclusion and equality" (EIDD Stockholm Declaration, 2004). According to the European Commission, it "encourages manufacturers and service providers to produce new technologies for everyone: technologies that are suitable for the elderly and people with disabilities.

Latest Universal Design Publications

  1. Japan's Adoption of Universal Design Ahead of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games
    Japan promotes universal design for inclusive society that is comfortable and accessible to everyone regardless of age, nationality and ability ahead of Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
  2. Makerspaces: Universal Design & Accessibility to People with Disabilities
    University of Washington researchers release new guidelines aimed at ensuring makerspaces are accessible to people with disabilities.
  3. Solutions for Accessible Bathrooms
    Independence in the bathroom is one of the most challenging tasks for accessibility and safety in the home.
  4. Assessing Your Home Accessibility Needs
    People with disabilities who are considering the purchase of a home need to assess their accessibility needs.
  5. Increasing Accessible Storage
    Tips to help you stretch and organize your living space with universally designed accessible storage.

Full List of Universal Design Documents (8 Items)


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