What is Universal Design?

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Photo by Laurence Clark

The term “universal design” describes the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

Although originally coined by architect Ronald L. Mace, it was the work of Selwyn Goldsmith, author of Designing for the Disabled (1963), who really pioneered the concept of free access for disabled people. His most significant achievement was the creation of the dropped curb which is now a standard feature of the built environment.

Universal design, otherwise know as inclusive design, emerged from earlier concepts for accessibility and barrier-free design as well as current adaptive and assistive technologies.  This concept is being applied to the design of technology, instruction, services, environmental spaces, and other products.

Barrier-free design is practiced in most public buildings by code, but is typically not considered in home design unless there is a personal need to do so.  By then, the adaptions are usually obvious to the design further emphasizing exclusion to other family members.  With life expectancy rising, increases in multi-generational lifestyles, and rising healthcare needs and cost, the home is becoming more than just a place to hang your hat. It is becoming a critical place to maintain lifelong health and well-being, as well as nurturing the family structure.

Life will always bring up challenges with you or your loved one’s physical and mental health.  A home should be ready to support basic human functions in the most graceful way whenever the needs arise. By skillfully incorporating universal design practices with comforting aesthetics, a home empowers families providing maximum lifestyle flexibility and added home value.


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