Why designers should use the Principles of Universal Design
| August 01, 2016
Have you ever gone somewhere with your extended family and noticed how everyone deals with the space? You may have never considered that, even though your grandparents or parents weren’t using walkers or in a wheelchair, they could have difficulty walking.
This is something that happens every day in all interior and exterior spaces that people use. We have a variety of age groups using the same space at the same time.
The obstacles are there, but because they aren’t obvious, we fail to notice. The idea that our built environments have unseen obstacles is why many who study human behavior and ergonomics believe that, as our population continues to grow and ultimately age, we need to view every space people use as a place where easy accessibility is necessary.
This will become more evident in the next few decades, when we will see a noticeable increase in people who are over the age of 50. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there will twice as many people who will be 65 and older than in previous decades.
This became very evident to me when I was recently invited to attend a design conference to sit in on discussions with manufacturers who are currently in the hospitality market, but want to have presence in the senior living market as well.
Why is this such a big deal? If you think about it, our world is designed for a younger, more agile group.
As an interior designer who works in senior living, hospitality, healthcare and corporate design, I was intrigued by what these manufacturers were interested in doing. They wanted to see if their products would be a good fit and what is important to seniors that may be not be as important to a younger age group.
The obvious answer, to me, was to make the furniture, lighting and finishes accessible to everyone. Understanding that seniors need a little bit firmer seating or more light than a younger person to see, they still want to be in space where they feel comfortable hanging out with everybody regardless of how old they are.
As we age, one of the most unsettling things we experience is the loss of independence. When simple tasks like walking, seeing or hearing are diminished, our physical and mental state decline more rapidly. Our aging bodies remind us that our freedom is fading and we are becoming more dependent.
That is why the concept of universal design for the furnishings and finishes as well as the built environment is needed now more than ever.
We are still seeing very active and independent seniors having accessibility issues in common places like homes, hotels, restaurants, health clinics, entertainment venues, banks and other businesses.
The Americans with Disabilities Act’s design guidelines help to ensure that we have accessible restrooms, hallways, entryways and signage. But what it doesn’t address is that, although we are making spaces more accessible for the disabled, we are not necessarily making them universal.
We all recognize the fact that having a disability or getting older should not prohibit us from participating in any of life’s activities. As interior designers, we should recognize the fact that all of us want to still want to continue living our lives to the fullest without it being difficult.
This is why, as an interior designer, I am drawn to The Principles of Universal Design.
The term was created by Ron L. Mace (1941-1998), an architect, product designer and educator, who worked to understand that accessibility for all should happen without effort.
This idea needs to be present during the design process for all types of interior projects. We need to consider the possibility that anyone, regardless of their age or ability, will use the space we are creating.
This is not only to preserve the health, safety and welfare of those who are using the space, but to preserve the sense of community that comes with having space that is accessible for everyone. Good design is meant not to be exclusive, but inclusive.
Interior designers especially understand that the comfort of an interior includes the ease in which it can be used as well as how good it looks. By embracing the idea that we are designing for all, we ultimately remove limitations and create a better quality of life for everyone.
Mace said, "That we as designers of products and spaces for people need to address all aspects of what it means to be human so that we are not creating limits but instead possibilities."
He coined the phrase "universal design" as the concept of designing products and the built environment to serve the needs of people regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.
Click here for more information on what the 7 Principles of Design are and how they may be used.
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