What is Universal Design?

Geometric & Universal Design Symbol

Universal Design is the idea that designed products or spaces – whether they be inside or outside, should be accessible to all people regardless of age, size, or ability. It isn’t meant to benefit a minority of the population; the tenants of universal design are to ensure that products, services, and environments are designed in such a manner that the majority is able to use them to their fullest – universal design is inclusive design. It is not a fad or a trend. As medical advances are made, and people live longer, mobility is an issue that many of us, even able-bodied, may face at some point in our lives. By changing accessible design to universal design it becomes a mainstream idea that benefits all.

In 1997, Ronald Mace led a group of architects, products designers and environmental designers to develop 7 principles that are encompassed by universal design. They form an all-encompassing approach to design that works for everyone, regardless of whether it is product or physical space. They are:

Equitable Use: To provide the same means for all groups, identical in design if possible, if not equal. This design should be aesthetically pleasing to all parties. To not stigmatize users. To provide the same amount of security. An example is to place an accessible ramp at the front of a building co-habitating with a staircase as opposed to placing the ramp at a secondary entrance.

Flexibility in Use: Offer choice for users. Provide means of use for left and right-handed users, or adaptability for differently abled users.

Simple and Intuitive Use: To offer a means of understanding for a variety of users: different languages, sight-impaired, hearing impaired. Provide adequate prompting and feedback. These items are often seen in design of new bank automated tellers which accommodate many languages, braille, as well as hearing impaired users.

Perceptible Information: Regardless of the design, it should provide information for a variety of sensory abilities. The information should be equal across the range of uses.

Tolerance for Error: Design should be such that they do not require perfect movement or use to perform. They should also minimize hazards and provide appropriate warnings for misuse.

Low Physical Effort: The design should be able to be used with a minimum of effort and no fatigue. It should avoid the necessity of repetitive movement when possible.

Size and Space for Approach and Use: Provide adequate approach site lines for standing and seated users. Accommodate a variety of hand sizes, or for use of assistive devices.

SOSS has created a door handle that aligns with the ideals of universal design. The Ultralatch handle is designed so that all users of any ability are able to easily grasp and use it in the manner intended. The minimal movement of the handle decreases the risk of injury, and the size accommodates a wide range of body abilities and grip strength. Additionally, the design of the latch allows left and right-handed use as well as use with assistive devices. It has a design that provides equitable use to all parties without stigmatizing users. SOSS has taken a necessary product and re-imagined it to make it easy for anyone to use, while making it aesthetically pleasing – accomplishing the creation of a product that fits the ideals of Universal Design.