BBI Chairman Blanck on "The Coming Importance of Universal Design"

January 20, 2016

By Dr. Peter Blanck

Universal design ("UD") of buildings, products, and technologies is not one of the most recognized subjects today. However, when you come to the realization that UD is the most revolutionary element of design presently that affects us all, you may start to pay attention.

Of course, there is no "one size fits all" or even "one size fits one" when it comes to people living in the world. All of us have different abilities and limitations, and we all move through the world with different levels of comprehension, emotion and backgrounds that allow a uniquely human interpretation of the world around us. Understanding that this diversity is a natural element of the human experience helps us to realize the coming importance of UD.

WHAT IS UNIVERSAL DESIGN?

Universal design is a way of designing physical and virtual spaces, and products and services, to address the inherent diversity of people. It introduces flexibility, choice and accommodating features to the world that we inhabit.

Ron Mace, who was the founder of the Center for Universal Design, envisioned UD as a basis for a more welcoming and usable world for all. Mace first defined UD as an approach to design that allows for individual participation regardless of background. UD, when implemented well, therefore, provides the benefits of an accessible world to all people; for example, people with and without disabilities.

One classic example of UD is the common curb cut. Initially installed to help people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices to effectively and equally navigate from street to sidewalk, these unobtrusive bits of public design turn out to be as useful for parents with strollers and travelers lugging wheeled suitcases.

Isn’t it amazing to think how much easier this simple design approach, and so many others like it, have made in the lives of everyone!

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