Principles of universal design in practice

Promoting the classic seven principles of universal design is all very well, but how do they materialise in practice? Designing for the mythical average person can limit the quality of life for some people. So what are the key design criteria for the built environment? 

In his article, Arat says designing to the principles of universal design is the answer. In the conclusions he attributes design criteria to each of the 7 principles. The title of the paper is Spatial Requirements for Elderly and Disabled People in the Frame of Universal Design.

Everyone needs universal design

A suburban house in UK. The ramp makes several zig-zags up the front of the house. It looks ugly.

Some people think that accessibility and universal design are the same thing. Explaining the difference isn’t always easy.  An article from the US, 5 Problems with Accessibility (And How Universal Design Fixes Them)” lists these points: 

    1. Accessibility is not always inclusive. Steps plus a ramp to a building means some people have to take a different route to get in.
    2. Accessibility puts burden on the individual. More planning is needed for every trip, even to a restaurant – not to make a reservation – but to find out if you can get in.
    3. Separate accessible features are not equal. Sometimes they create extra hurdles and more effort.
    4. Accessibility provides limited solutions to a broad problem. This is because it is often an “add-on”. 
    5. Accessibility is not designed with style in mind. It is usually just designed to just serve a purpose.  

Note: the picture of the house with the ramp shows four out of the five points. Different route, separate, limited solution, no style. 

For an even more practical approach from an individual’s perspective, Lifemark in New Zealand has a practical blog post.

A chrome lever door handle with the door ajar. The door is timberIt’s about how everyone needs universal design so that everyday tasks could be more convenient for everyone.  Here are a few examples: 

    • Your wide garage will make getting the kids, car seats and buggy in and out of the car easy and risk free – no paint scratches on the walls from opened car doors.
    •  You will be able to open any doors even if both of your hands are full, because of your easy to operate lever door handles. 
    • If your hands are dirty, you’ll still be able to use the lever tap without making a mess. 
    • Plugging in the vacuum cleaner won’t strain your back because the power socket is higher up the wall. 
    • You will access your kitchen utensils/crockery because none of the drawers will be too high or too low and you’ll be able to open every drawer with one little push of your hand/knee.

See Lifemark website for the full blog post.

Make it right – a builder’s view

Mike Holmes stands in work gear with his muscled arms folded, smiling at the camera. A builder's view of UD.Followers of universal design are familiar with the 7 principles of universal design. They were formulated in the 1990s and are still referenced today. It’s interesting to see how different people interpret these  principles. So it was good to see how a builder does it. 

Mike Holmes’ article begins with issues of everyday home maintenance and then applies it to the maintenance of our lives within the home. That is, the home should be design so that it adapts as our lives change. Holmes takes each of the 7 principles and gives practical examples of what it means to him.   


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