Universal Design

Posted On Jun 14th 2021

Universal Design

Creating Satisfaction & Convenience for All People

When we speak about Aging in Place, we usually only think about the elderly or when we reference ADA compliancy, we are thinking only about accessibility for those with disabilities. It is true that over the next couple of decades, the U.S. will have over 85 Million people over the age of 65 and it is estimated that 1 in 8 Americans are challenged with disabilities. Both cohorts will play an important role in designing spaces. But why should we stop there? During a recent LivABLE Environment Conference, founder Linda Kafka stated that “everyone is temporarily abled.” When you think about it, it is true. At some point in our lives, we have or will need some assistance with everyday tasks whether it is because we grow old, have an unfortunate accident, or have people in our homes that need help. Even children would benefit from a “design and composition of an environment that can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.” Yes, we are speaking about Universal Design.

There are 7 key principals that Universal Design requires which are:

  • Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to any group of users.
  • Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Simple and Intuitive Use: The design is easy to understand regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills or current concentration level.
  • Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or user’s sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
  • Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with minimum fatigue.
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of the user’s body, size, posture or mobility.

When designing Universal Design spaces, accessibility and safety are at the top of the list to consider. This means that layout and clearance could be the best starting point. If we put ourselves in the seat of someone bound to a wheelchair, pathways could be designed so that there is a minimum of 48” clearance and considerations should be given to 60” needed to turn around in a wheelchair. Not only would this make a space more accessible it would create a modern, more open aesthetic. Also, sliding doors could be incorporated to increase accessible while maximizing space. Best of all it ensures that if left open, the door will not impede on traffic areas. Adequate lighting is also critical. As we age, it is said that we need 30% more lighting to see the same thing we did when we were younger. And not just for performing tasks, but to ensure that we see transitions and other hazards that may pose a danger. Furthermore, minimizing stairs and/or eliminating thresholds to showers will also reduce functional barriers and safety risks.

Universal Design can also minimize stress even when performing everyday tasks. For example, in conversations about designing for the aging, we often hear the phrase “eyes to the thighs” referring to the sweet spot where it is most comfortable to reach and maintain balance when performing tasks. For the interior designer, this means ensuring that common access to cabinets and drawers occur in this area. Good solutions for storage are to maximize lower cabinet spaces and designing in islands with ample storage so people would not have to reach above their heads to reach several upper cabinets. But wouldn’t this be a good thing for everyone? Minimizing upper cabinets can even provide more space for windows that would allow in more light making the area look more spacious as well as lively.
Access into drawers and cabinets can be made easier by designing in knobs and handles that don’t require a lot of dexterity and are designed with ample space that allow them to be used easier by all ages. Many hardware manufactures have made a conscious effort to create designs that blend form and function to avoid that awful institutional look we envision when thinking about accessibility. Push to open hardware has also helped to merge form and function by allowing people to open drawers and cabinets without the need for traditional hardware elements. Not only do they provide a clean modern look, but push-latches add convenience because they don’t require fine motor skills to pull open. Hardware companies are beginning to introduce more solutions that help architects, designers and custom cabinet builders create environments that are safer and more convenient. Unique solutions like Lateral Door Opening systems have been designed to minimize the required space to open a door as well as provide full access into cabinets and storage spaces even in corner applications. Imagine not having to clear out of the way of opening doors or having easy access into those challenging corner cabinets. At the end of the day, we all desire autonomy. Whether it is transitions in life stages, managing a disability or suffering a minor injury, we want to be able to navigate daily tasks on our own. Designing with the principles of Universal Design will help ensure safety, access and convenience that empower people with independence. Since 1930, Sugatsune has been creating satisfaction and convenience for people. Be sure to visit us at www.sugastune.com or call one of our specialists at (800) 562-5267 to help you find the right solution to help with your design challenges.
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