Universal Design is an approach to design that considers the varied abilities of users, ie. an inclusive design approach. It is not only applicable to the needs of people with disabilities, but to everyone, regardless of age, size, ability or disability.
Universal Design has garnered a growing interest as an alternative to accessible design over the last number of years.
Why has this occurred?
In the highly developed countries there are several reasons:
- An increase in the number of survivors of disability
- Increasing life spans
- Increasing purchasing power among the population with disabilities
- Recognition of the inadequacies of assistive technologies
- Products and environments that were not designed with old people in mind.
(Excerpt from The Universal Design E-World)
Universal Design vs Accessible Design
Universal design means products and buildings are accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities. It provides one solution that can accommodate people with disabilities as well as the rest of the population.
Accessible design specifically considers the needs of people with disabilities. Accessibility sometimes refers to the characteristic that products, services, and facilities can be independently used by people with a variety of disabilities. Unfortunately, accessible design has a tendency to lead to separate facilities for people with disabilities, eg. a ramp set off to the side of a stairway at an entrance.
Accessibility in South Africa
The National Council for Persons with Physical Disabilities in South Africa (NCPPDSA) states on their website that “South Africa currently has laws and building regulations which is not discriminatory, barrier free and inclusive of persons with disabilities, but we fail in the implementation of this legislation in terms of providing true equality for persons with disabilities, and failure to enforce compliance with existing building regulations. Non-compliance exposes companies to legal action from individuals and could also lead to class action, permissible under our constitution…Non-compliance is about to become very expensive, for both government and corporations.”
We can’t phrase it any better!
For persons with disabilities to be fully functional in society, they should have certain facilities in the buildings in which they live, work or seek recreation.
A number of legal requirements, minimum standards and acts in South Africa legally require public buildings, attractions, etc. to be accessible to those with disabilities.
Some of these include:
- SANS 10400-S (2011) (English): The application of the National Building Regulations Part S: Facilities for persons with disabilities is the legal document that highlights the minimum building regulations and requirements South Africans must follow to be compliant.
- The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 (Act No. 108 of 1996) gives a clear framework about access for persons with disabilities.
- The Employment Equity Act, 1998 (Act No. 55 of 1998)
- The Occupational Health and Safety Act, 1993 (Act No. 85 of 1993)
- The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (Act No. 4 of 2000) section 9 and 13
Every effort should be made to ensure that each site, building and facility can be used to the maximum extent by persons with disabilities.
If an area of the site or building or particular facilities cannot be made accessible, then the onus is on the decision-maker, if and when challenged, to prove to persons with disabilities and persons without disabilities that this was a reasonable decision to make.
Unfortunately, as the NCPPDSA points out, implementing, enforcing and policing compliance with these laws and regulations are sorely lacking.
Universal Design is about more than Accessibility
Accessible design and its intentions are great and certainly noble. The approach, however, is exclusive and mainly aimed at compliance with a set of given standards of design.
Universal design is more than simply being accessible. “It is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, universal design is good design.” Centre of Excellence in Universal Design Ireland
Universal Design assumes that the range of human ability is ordinary, not special. Elaine Ostroff, 2001
Benefits of Universal Design
For the Individual:
The list of benefits of universal design for individuals is a lengthy one. However, two reasons are paramount:
- Participation in Society
- Increased Market Reach – Products, services or environments become available to a higher number and a wider range of potential customers.
- Enhanced Customer Satisfaction and Retention – A satisfied customer tells other people about the product, service or environment, increasing awareness and potentially drawing new customers.
- Market Crossover Success -Products aimed at a specific target group sometimes generates interest and demand from unforeseen markets.
- Positive Public Image – Businesses that positively contribute to society by incorporating a universal design approach is likely to receive a reputation for having a high level of corporate social responsibility.
- Increased Consumer Expectations – The general public’s voice is now more prominent and influential than ever. People are more confident to speak up when they have a complaint and IT and social media platforms have made this increasingly easier to do. Universal Design enables companies to design products, services and environments that more closely match consumer expectations and needs.
- Accept at First Use – A customer forms an opinion about a product at first use, or even at first sight. If a first impression is negative, a consumer is not likely to buy a product or to go back to the inaccessible store. One the other hand, If a product or store is simple, clear, easy to access and easy to use, customers are more likely to buy it or to visit the store again.
(Modified excerpt from universaldesign.ie)
WheelsUp for Universal Design
The WheelsUp design team follows the principle that usability, functionality and aesthetics are mutually compatible. The team believes that “normal” is not a static concept but simply a point on an ever increasing continuum. They recognize that every person will at some point in their lives experience some form of disability or impairment, either temporary or permanent.
It is a sensible and economical way to reconcile the artistic integrity of a design with human needs in the environment. Solutions which result in no additional cost and no noticeable change in appearance can come about from knowledge about people, simple planning, and careful selection of conventional products.
– Ronald Mace, Graeme Hardie, Jaine Place
Accessible Environments: Toward Universal Design, 1991
The WheelsUp design team aims to offer “solutions that are sensible and economical and that reconcile the artistic integrity of a design with human needs in an environment.”