What is Universal Design?

The curb cut is one of most often cited examples of Universal Design. The dip in the curb allows people who use wheelchairs easy access to the street, but is it also useful for skateboarders and people pushing strollers or carrying luggage, or people who have arthritis and are unable to climb steps. The simple curb cut makes the sidewalk and street accessible to a wide variety of users so that more people in the community have access to public spaces, without having to make a special arrangement. A curb cut is an example of Universal Design in action, while retrofitting steps into a house or school is an example of an accommodation. Universal Design can eliminate the need for many accommodations by considering the needs of a diverse set of users up front.

Accessibility isn't frosting on the cake. It's like the eggs. You have to put it in at the start, & it's a lot of work if you didn't. #gaadUniversal Design as a principle asks us to consider the broad range of participants in any given situation. Rather than¬† designing for the “average” user, or even the majority of a type of user, all possibilities are considered in the planning stages. While it might not be possible to design for every individual in the world, at least considering a variety of needs will help ensure more people are included than are excluded. In the classroom, other theories including multiple intelligences and theories on various learning styles also consider a wide variety of learners. Universal Design differs in that the emphasis is on increasing access regardless of ability or disability.

One out of every ten people in the world has a disability (Boyd & Moulton 2004, p 70). In the US, that number goes up to 20% (Boyd & Moulton 2004, p 70). Disabilities vary; did you know that 8% of the US male populate is colorblind? (Boyd & Moulton 2004, p 70). Disability is one protected class that anyone can enter at any point of their lifetime. Designing with various physical and mental abilities in mind, in addition to the needs, desires and goals of a variety of populations will help create a higher quality product, whether it be a sidewalk, a classroom or an assignment.

Principles of Universal Design