Design for ALL

A man and woman laying in bed smiling for the camera.

“We are less when we don’t include everyone.”

~ Stuart Milk

The Term “Universal Design” (UD) is for many an ambiguous concept. It’s not a euphemism for accessibility, rather it is defined as the design of products and environments to be useable for the greatest extent possible by people of all ages and abilities.

The goal of UD is to respect human diversity and promote inclusion of all people in all activities of life. I like to think of it as “Inclusive Design.” The essential meaning of Universal is the underlying assumption that it could happen to me. As apposed to “special needs” that are always someone else’s. The Designer Ralph Caplin noted that “In a rational world you wouldn’t have to use it, because that’s what design itself would be.”

Historically designers tended to implement minimum standards due to higher costs–with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a paradigm shift in design occurred. Design went beyond coeds and into the realm of civil rights. This shift promised to benefit all of us (hence the term “Universal”).

Cut Curb Effect

The simplest and first example I encountered was the cut-curb. Initially designed for Wheelchair users, soon became useful to new mothers pushing strollers, skateboarders, runners, dogs, elderly, and now personal mobile devices. UD has been also called Life-Span Design and embraced by designers around the world. Michel Philbert, a French philosopher and gerontologist had proposed that we are at the dawn of a new understanding where Aging is defined as a pattern of change throughout the entire lifespan. Therefore, designing for children, older folks, and others with disabilities is not thinking about separate groups of users but a spectrum of human-environment interaction/s.

Solve for one, extend to the many. This principle is often referred to as the Curb-Cut Effect. By making something accessible or easier to use for one group, it makes things accessible and easier to use for everyone.

~ Design with Accessibility in Mind: The POUR Methodology


Why We Need Universal Design

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