Universal Design

In the built environment, universal design is the concept of designing all products to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent by everyone. One common example is the dropped curb, essential for people in wheelchairs, but used by all.

In New Zealand, improving accessibility to the built environment is one of the core aims of the Disability Action Plan. The rebuilding of Christchurch after the earthquakes represents a unique opportunity to create a city that is accessible to all.

In the built environment, universal design means creating buildings that can be accessed by anyone regardless of age, mobility or stage of life. The phrase was coined by American architect Ron Mace who identified seven key principles:

Equitable use - the design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.

  • Flexibility in use - the design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Simple and intuitive to use - use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skill or current concentration level.
  • Perceptible information - the design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for error - the design minimises hazards and the adverse consequences of accidential or unintended actions.
  • Low physical effort - the design can be used efficiently and effectively with a minimum of fatigue.
  • Size and space for approach and use - appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture or mobility.

The Barrier Free Trust was set up to encourage, promote and facilitate the creation of built environments that are accessible and usable by everyone. They do this through education and training and the provision of technical advice, research and advocacy. They produce a handbook (PDF) for anyone with an interest in creating universally accessible buildings.

The Universal Design Conference hosts speakers from all over the world.

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