Videos explaining universal design, almost universally start by showing a person in a wheelchair. This is one reason why people think universal design is disability design. It’s also why they think they don’t need it – it’s for the “others”.
When the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design were devised in 1997, the concept was envisioned as mainstream. Hence the use of the term “universal”. However, universal design does benefit people with disability most. And it’s difficult to explain universal design without including people with disability
A video from the United States, titled Laying the Foundation for Universal Design, also starts with wheelchair users. In the second half it moves onto the 7 Principles as originally intended. It emphasises that universal deign goes beyond compliance. In this case, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
One speaker captures the concept well, “I laughingly talk about the myth of the accessible bathroom, because there are so many ways you can meet the intent of the law, and still it doesn’t meet everyone’s needs”. Looking for flexibility in the solutions available is the key. It’s critical to think about how different people respond, perceive or interact with a design.
This video is one in a series and good for introducing people to the concept of universal design. It has some good take home messages. However, the focus is on people with disability. There is little mention of children, older people, people who are neurodiverse, and those using wheeled devices other than wheelchairs.
Similarly to Australia, the US legislation, ADA, does not require universal design. Compliance usually results in accessibility as an afterthought. Universal design is a set of performance guidelines that explain why it should be done.