Universal Design and Inclusion

According to the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), the past decade has seen a professional shift in service provision that challenges us to think not only of the individual’s access, but also beyond it to more equitable, sustainable and usable environments. This cultural shift is a result of progressive views of disability and the construct of universal design.

A universal design approach to service delivery holds the promise of creating inclusive environments, alleviating the need for certain individual accommodations and creating a more collaborative, wide-reaching professional role for service providers. The concept of “universal design” is applicable to homes, schools, work places, health care facilities, and the community-at large.  The Center for Universal Design at NC State University defines “universal design” as:

“The idea that all new environments and products, to the greatest extent possible, should be usable by everyone regardless of their age, ability, or circumstance.”

According to the Center, the main principle of universal design is to “provide the same means of use for all users, avoid segregation and make the design appealing to all users.”

Examples of universal design include sink faucets that turn on automatically when you place your hands under them, bells that ding at each floor as you pass in an elevator, ergonomically designed tools and kitchen appliances, audible traffic signals with timers, curb cuts, and automatic doors.  The greatest benefit of universal design features and products is that they make functioning throughout the community more feasible for both people with disabilities and the rest of the community.