SOLUTION: Universal design is an approach required by all who are involved in creating environments and products that are usable by all individuals, regardless of their abilities or age.
The concept known as universal design, in a nutshell, is to understand the importance of designing for all individuals involved. The Fair Housing Act Amendments of 1988 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 play important roles in understanding the concept and in forming the requirements needed to be met as excellent interior design and designing universally for all.
Universal design incorporates equitable use. The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse disabilities and ages equally. Ease of use also is incorporated into universal design. The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
Simple use is another way to approach universal design. Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current level of concentration. The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user’s abilities. The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with a minimum of effort. Appropriate size and space is provided for use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.
Some obvious examples of universal design are the entrance doors in retail spaces such as supermarkets and in libraries and public buildings. These need to be used by all types of individuals. These doors usually open electronically so that anyone can enter easily, including mothers with strollers, children, wheelchair users and others with mobility and sensory impairments. Door handles—size and placement—are another example.
Think of your local grade school. All the furniture and bathrooms are designed at a child’s level for ease of use. Tables are usually rounded on the edges for safety.
Universally designed products are very helpful to a wide range of individuals. They allow a greater variety of people to successfully access and use the product directly. For instance, an individual in a wheelchair cannot reach the upper cabinets in a kitchen. The height of the counter in a kitchen or bathroom may be too high to access in a wheel chair or for a child that is shorter than the cabinet height. Designers, manufacturer product development departments and others, if they have researched a product correctly, will specify or design products for their target market to use with more ease. The product, whatever it is, will be used in a greater variety of environments and situations.
Great advances in technology for the home have made light switches, remote controls, computers, furniture and kitchen appliances (large and small) more accessible to all individuals.
As for the target market for universal design, it is not only our aging population or individuals with disabilities. Universal design covers all ages and types of individuals. The housing market has really tapped into this concept recently. Communities are required in some states to have new homes meet strict ease-of-use requirements. Far from being more restrictive, the American with Disabilities Act has opened many new doors for designers and manufacturer’s to consider, even if universal, accessible design is not required by law. Good interior design, or should I say excellent interior design, will incorporate interiors that are accessible to all.
Interior designers and the home industry have become visible leaders in recent years in designing all types of products that are designed to make life easier for all: Non-slip flooring, wall surfaces that are easy to clean, remote control units, ergonomically correct seating for home use, fixtures for the home, shower tub enclosures, sinks, door handles, cabinets, doorway widths, just to name a few. And we are advancing yearly in designing additional products that will make life easier for all. Encourage your suppliers and ask to see new products each time you visit a manufacturer’s showroom!
In the meantime, here are two Web sites to check out:
Editor’s note: This is a continuing series of articles written by Sharon L. Anderson that will answer some of the many questions we receive at Draperies & Window Coverings as well as questions Anderson has encountered in her own business. If you have a question you would like Anderson to address, please send it to:
c/o Draperies & Window Coverings
1724 E. Grand Ave.
Lindenhurst, IL 60046
Fax: (847) 356-9013
Sharon L. Anderson has more than 20 years experience in the residential and commercial areas of interior design. She is currently a faculty member at two Southern California colleges. Anderson has been featured in numerous books and publications.