Universal design is a term, and a mode of architectural practice, that is often misunderstood. At its core, universal design promotes design that can benefit all occupants and users of buildings, not just the elderly or persons with disabilities.
Universal design—also known as “design for all,” “inclusive design,” and “human-centered design”—is not new. It’s been around for more than 20 years. The seven principles were promulgated in 1997 by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.
A few consumer product manufacturers have taken universal design to heart. Notable among these is OXO (oxo.com/products), which is famous for its kitchen devices that make it easier for a person with, say, arthritis, to grip a can opener. People with no physical limitations love them, too, because they work so well and feel so good. That’s what universal design is all about: design that works for everybody’s benefit.
The concept of universal design also works in reverse. Take lever-style door handles. Even though they are required by code in multifamily projects, they are much easier to use than round pull handles, not only for people with physical limitations, but for the physically capable as well—for example, the young mother who’s holding a squirmy toddler in one arm and a bag of groceries in the other.
After reading this article, you should be able to:
• Discuss the seven basic principles of universal design.
• Differentiate universal design practices from those required by the ADA and the Fair Housing Act.
• List several ways to implement universal design for kitchens, baths, and bedrooms in multifamily communities.
• Explain the role of color, lighting, and door hardware in universal design, especially in senior/assisted living and memory-care facilities.