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Question from Mary - Universal Design (pt 2)

Continuation on last week’s Q&A from Mary - Universal Design

Answer from Ross Sanders

Last week I received a question from Mary asking about the best options for improving home accessibility for her aging husband who is finding it increasingly difficult to get up and down the stairs. I discussed seat lift systems, which are a relatively inexpensive and efficient way to make multi-level homes navigable. I wanted to use this week’s Q&A as an opportunity to touch on another major trend in accessibility: Universal Design (UD).

As you may have guessed from the name, Universal Design is a theory and practice that aims at addressing the question of access for all users regardless of size, mobility, age, gender and just about any other characteristic you can think of. As an architect, I am most interested in how UD affects architectural design, but it is important to note that the concepts can be applied to a very broad range of industries. A good example can be found in graphic design, where things like font size, stroke width and even color are being created with UD in mind to make sure that the graphics are legible to all viewers.

The Americans with Disabilities Act got the ball rolling, especially in commercial architecture, but now Universal Design is pushing the limits by being more encompassing and universally applied by architects. If we think about a multi-level residential home, Universal Design is used to remove barriers by eliminating steps and raised thresholds, embracing one-level living, widening hallways and doors, enlarging traditionally small spaces and setting counters at appropriate heights. Additionally, hardware and equipment controls are designed with easy-action levers, which are preferred over knobs that require grasping and twisting. Even bigger buttons, displays and brighter lighting are all steps in the right direction.

In the simplest terms, Universal Design seeks to make everyone feel welcome in any space.

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