Items that are usable by most people regardless of their level of ability or disability can be considered universally usable. Many accessible and adaptable features are universally usable. For example, round door knobs are not usable by people with limited use of their hands, but lever handles which are readily available in all price ranges, styles and colors are usable by almost everyone, including people who have no hands. Some items are made more universally usable by their placement. Light switches located at a lower height and electrical receptacles raised to 15” to 18” above the floor place them within reach of most people without requiring bending or stretching. Bathtub controls located off center toward the outside of the tub provide the same benefits.
Some features are made more universally usable by making them adjustable. Closet rods, shelves and countertops are a few adjustable universally usable items. Some universally usable items must be selected, for example, to be easy, comfortable and functional for most people, a water cooler may need to be a dual height model with both standard and lower spouts and controls. To create a universally usable group toilet room, two types of accessible toilet stalls may need to be installed. A universally usable landscape design may include alternative paths free of steps and stairs. The widespread inclusion in product design of universally usable features such as touch sensitive controls is bringing the universal approach into the market for consumer items.
Universal design addresses the scope of accessibility and suggests making all elements and spaces accessible to and usable by all people to the greatest extent possible. This is accomplished through thoughtful planning and design at all stages of any design project. It need not increase costs nor result in special, clinical or different looking facilities. Universal design requires an understanding and consideration of the broad range of human abilities throughout the lifespan. Creative application of that knowledge results in products, buildings and facilities that are usable by most people regardless of their age, agility, or physical or sensory abilities.
By incorporating the characteristics necessary for people with physical limitations into the design of common products and building spaces, we can make them easier and safer for everyone to use and more widely marketable and profitable. The universal design approach goes beyond the minimum requirements and limitations of accessibility law.
*This material has been reprinted verbatim from the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina University. Disclaimer: The Principles of Universal Design were conceived and developed by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina University. Use or application of the Principles in any form by an individual or organization is separate and distinct from the Principles and does not constitute or imply acceptance or endorsement by the Center for Universal Design of the use or application.