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Universal Design: An Introduction!

September 28, 2017

Living or working in a space that does not meet your needs can be frustrating. Every environment should be designed to meet the needs of the people who use it. Universal Design is accessible, usable, and convenient for everyone, regardless of age, size, ability, or disability. It is not an exclusive design that will benefit a minority of the population; it is the fundamental condition of good design. Throughout the design process of a building, product, or service, Universal Design considers the diverse needs and abilities of a wide range of individuals.

The 7 Principles of Universal Design guide the development of environments, products, and communications. These principles may be applied to evaluate existing designs, guide the process for designers and consumers, and educate everyone about more usable products and environments. Below is a breakdown of each principle.

Principle 1: Equitable Use - The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities. The purpose of this principle is to avoid segregating or stigmatizing any users. All users should be provided the same means of use when possible, or something equivalent when not possible.

Principle 2: Flexibility in Use - The design accommodates a broad range of individual preferences and abilities. The purpose of this principle is to provide choice in methods of use, accommodate both right- and left-handed users, aid in the user's accuracy and precision, and provide flexibility to the user's pace.

Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use - The design is easy to understand regardless of the user's background or ability. The purpose of this principle is to keep the design simple and consistent while accommodating a wide range of literacy and language skills. Information is consistently arranged and efficient, and feedback is provided before, during, and after the task.

Principle 4: Perceptible Information - The design communicates essential information effectively to the user. The purpose of this principle is to use different modes such as pictorial, verbal, and tactile when presenting valuable information. People with sensory limitations will be provided compatibility with a variety of techniques or devices to make instructions or directions easier to understand.

Principle 5: Tolerance for Error - The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidents. The purpose of this principle is to provide room for error with fail safe features and risk warnings. It also encourages conscious action in tasks that require vigilance.

Principle 6: Low Physical Effort - The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue. The purpose of this principle is to allow the user to maintain a neutral body position and minimize effort. Reasonable operative forces are used while repetitive actions are decreased.

Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use - Appropriate size and space is provided regardless of the user's size, posture, or mobility. The purpose of this principle is to provide a clear line of sight and reach to essential elements for both seated and standing users. It also accommodates variations in hand and grip size and provides enough space for assistance when required.

Universal Design benefits not only individual users, but society as a whole. This design approach will lead to the development of more inclusive environments that can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by everyone. It can help people aging in place to live an independent life; It can help people with disabilities better access features in their environment, and it can help those living with chronic pain to work comfortably with a minimum of fatigue. The benefits are endless. Univeral Design is user-friendly and convenient, but also respectful of user dignity, rights, and privacy.

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