Universal Design (UD) is an approach to designing products and environments for the masses. When architects, engineers, and product designers create something new, they ensure the facility, information, and merchandise can be used, accessed, and understood by the greatest number of people, regardless of their diverse needs and abilities.
Ronald Mace, an architect, industrial designer, and wheelchair user, developed the concept in the 90s. While UD was the brainchild of a wheelchair user, it goes well beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Let me help you understand how.
Imagine that you are in front of a drink cooler at the store. Iced tea is arranged on the top row of the cooler horizontally. Coke is below that, then Mountain Dew, and finally, water. You’d like an iced tea. Can you reach it?
Maybe you are tall enough to reach the iced tea, maybe not. Perhaps you use a wheelchair or have limited mobility in your arms. Regardless, not everyone will be able to get the iced tea without assistance.
Now imagine that same drink cooler, with the drinks rearranged. Each of the four horizontal rows are now identically organized: iced tea, Coke, Mountain Dew, water. Can you reach your iced tea now? Tastes pretty refreshing, right?
This is a perfect example of UD in action. It’s not an accommodation for some, it’s a design change that increases access for all. Universal design is also a critical tool in allowing people to fully participate at work and the community at large. I’ve created a short but insightful quiz that can help you determine where you fall on the accessibility, inclusivity, and equality scale. Take it and find out how you rate.