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Disability is not a phenomenon, but a phase. At some point in life, a person comes across this phase. It may be temporary or permanent. It can be in any form; for example, the elderly, ill, pregnant, obese, children, persons with fractures, or luggage. Universal Design is one such single solution to several problems regarding different designs for a differently abled person. It refers to a design that is accessible to people of all genders, sizes, ages, and disabilities.
The goal of universal design is design equality. Nowadays, accessibility for all is recognized as a basic necessity. Throughout the world, it is being realized that there need not be an exclusive design effort to suit the need of people with differences. It appears that creating an inclusive and sustainable environment is the order of the day.
From color choices to room arrangement and allocation, inclusive design takes into account all of these elements and more to create a space that is accessible to everyone.
Principles of Universal Design
Equitable use: All users should have equal access to the same resources, and there should be no stigmatization.
Flexibility in use: Allowing users to choose from a variety of techniques of use and adapt to their change in requirements.
Simple and intuitive use: Conformance to the user’s expectations and intuition, as well as the removal of needless complications.
Perceptible information: Regardless of the user’s sensory capacities or the environmental conditions, the design should communicate the relevant information.
Tolerance for error: Minimizing the chance of errors by properly designing spaces.
Low physical effort: Space must be designed such that users can access the space with minimum fatigue.
Size and space for approach and use: Regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility, adequate size, and space are provided.
Design standards for various building uses have been defined by design authorities around the world. Global Universal Design Commission – GUDC and the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design (CEUD) are some such institutions. These authorities provide standards for designing various facilities that enable specially-abled people to access those facilities easily.
Human Abilities and Design
The primary aim of universal design is to create a physical environment that benefits the user and improves his physical and psychological state. The physical, sensory, and mental capacities differ from person to person and as they age. It is natural for people to be different. Designers must be aware of differences in human capacities and the design issues that go along with them.
The primary purpose of our senses is to allow us to perceive the world around us. Our eyes see it, ears hear it, noses smell it, and mouths taste it. These senses, together with a few others, give us the vast majority of our knowledge of the world. This happens when we first walk into a new environment and begin to notice, acknowledge, and analyze it.
This includes walking, balance, pulling, and pushing. Physical strength and stamina may also affect the abilities of people to perform these actions.
Cognition, intellect, interpretation, learning, and memory are all mental capacities. People differ in their knowledge, as well as their ability to comprehend, reason, and analyze the environment. Designing for variances in these capacities helps in the formation of a usable environment for the general public, ranging from the very young to the elderly, as well as a differently-abled person.
Age and size
Individual components should be as safe and age-appropriate as possible. From children to adults, the population has a wide range of sizes and heights. The heights of construction elements such as steps, as well as the placement of components, should take into account the diversity of heights.
Each building has a specific function or range of functions, and its design must ensure that people working in or visiting the building can access and use its facilities. Some buildings or parts of buildings, such as shops and offices, have only one specific function and generally must meet the criteria related to these types of buildings. However, other buildings, especially larger, multipurpose buildings such as community rooms, require designers and developers to think more creatively so that the use of the buildings can be easily adjusted. Multipurpose buildings may require a careful interpretation and the application of extensive design guidelines to ensure they are flexible in use, yet still convenient and accessible to all.
The goal should be to build homes that are easily adaptable to accommodate the changing demands of residents over time in all new housing. It provides everyone more options in terms of where they live and allows them to stay in their own houses as their requirements change.
The design of apartments should facilitate the movement for everyone, and allow people using wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers to easily pass through doors and make 360-degree turns in each room, corridor, and lobby or corridor area. One or more passenger elevators, or preferably evacuation elevators, should be installed in public areas of apartment buildings with three or more floors so that each resident and visitor can easily enter each floor.
The elevator must serve all floors, including the underground parking lot and the floor that contains public facilities such as laundry rooms. In a multi-story apartment building, it is best to provide over one elevator so that can be easily accessed when the elevator is out of service because of a malfunction or routine maintenance.
Universal design in individual houses is building a house with functions that all users can use equally. For example, the entrance to a residence has a sloping concrete walkway that leads to a front door with barrier-free thresholds and a door large enough to accommodate a wheelchair. In the home, there are wide hallways and doors accessible to wheelchair users.
The kitchen can have countertops of different heights, folding cabinet shelves, and roll under sinks. The bathroom is large enough to spin a wheelchair, is equipped with a zero-entry or barrier-free roller shower, a roller washbasin, and an adjustable tilt mirror to accommodate seated and standing users.
All offices, whether they serve a public purpose or are only for private use, should be based on universal design so that individuals of all ages, sizes and disabilities can visit or work there.
This section includes hotels, motels, hostels, guest houses, bed and breakfast establishments, and self-catering holiday properties. All of these buildings should be based on universal design and provide guests with a variety of options and flexibility. The availability of multiple bedrooms in many of these building types, particularly hotels, motels, hostels, and guest houses, allows them to cater to visitor demands and preferences. Interconnected rooms provide flexibility and are especially advantageous to people who want to stay together while maintaining some privacy, such as families, individuals with helpers, etc. Swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, bars, lounges, crèches, meeting and function spaces, and outdoor facilities such as gardens and terraces should all be accessible and available to guests.
This section includes a wide range of retail outlets, including small shops, supermarkets, shopping malls, and retail parks. All retail establishments and associated exterior areas should be universally designed to provide equal access to customers and full employment opportunities.
This section includes customer areas at cafés and restaurants, snack bars, canteens, public bars, and lounges. All buildings should have a clear and logical layout with unobstructed access routes to allow for easy and independent access throughout. It is preferable in new structures for all spaces within a story to be at the same level. If a raised or sunken seating space is offered, the change in level should be served by a ramp and steps, and everyone should be able to reach it.
Low or no threshold entrances, low-height reception desk sections, and barrier-free emergency exits help create a comfortable and safe environment. Wide doors and corridors provide convenience for all users, improve air circulation and reduce the fatigue of medical staff. Ensuring physical accessibility in the health center helps avoid and reduces the stress and anxiety of visitors.
Customers, visitors, and medical staff must be able to clearly understand where they are, how to reach specific units and offices, or where to find exits. To facilitate navigation, it is best to use color codes for different functional installations, and use colored arrows to mark the routes. The contrasting colors of walls, floors, doors, and furniture help people with vision problems. In addition, it attracts attention and prevents customers from falling and being injured.
Universal design is about access and also about creating a more inclusive design and learning-friendly environment in study centers.
Schools/Colleges built on the principles of universal design will be more effective because they allow children to learn, develop and participate, rather than create barriers to the development and participation of children, making them “disabled.” Space, light, types of materials, and even color will affect the way of experiencing education. Schools can make good use of these elements to create buildings and places that reflect the needs and desires of students and staff.
The extent of the study area will depend on the nature of the facility, the number of people expected at any one time, and the type of files or artifacts being viewed. The table should have enough space on each side so that people can comfortably circulate and sit without disturbing others. In some cases, providing a height-adjustable, electric desk or workbench can be beneficial to the visitors and help facilitate the widest range of people.
Universal design makes public spaces attractive to everyone. Shared spaces are designed to attract users, whether it’s their local city hall, favorite park, or popular urban space. The universal design process can enhance any shared space design, focusing on key shared space design measures in high-traffic areas of your community. This includes considerations such as sidewalks, comfort zones, intersections, curbs, trails, etc.
In many museums and visitor centers, interactive exhibits can effectively attract children and others. No matter where they are used, the buttons, switches, and handles should be easy to use for people of all ages and abilities.
Many museums and art galleries, especially those located in historical buildings, involve long-distance travel between exhibits. In this case, information about the size and layout should be provided near the entrance so that visitors can plan the visit and have time to rest as and when needed. Providing a wheelchair on rent will help the specially-abled to access the venue comfortably. Regular seating should be provided in the corridor, including some seats with armrests.
Some parks focus on historical backgrounds, ecological habitats, or sports, while other parks provide more comprehensive recreational facilities. Providing a signage system or information on a common layout can help users to move comfortably in and around the parks. It is advisable to introduce visual and tactile elements, to warn the visually impaired, young children, differently-abled persons, or people with cognitive or learning difficulties.
Historic Buildings and Sites
The best and most appropriate way to make historic locations more accessible is through management solutions that may only require minor physical intervention or alteration of the historic fabric in some cases. Access strategies that are well-thought-out from the start can help to avoid unnecessary intervention and costs. When intervention is essential, thoughtful, compassionate, and well-designed solutions should be created and implemented by individuals with the requisite expertise and experience. One should consult people with disabilities, people of all abilities, local government access, and architectural conservation officers to develop appropriate solutions.
Parking lots must be barrier-free and easy to use, and they must provide sufficient parking spaces in a well-designed environment to meet the needs of all those who are expected to use them. Regardless of where parking facilities are provided, the needs of the following users must be considered: the car users, including parents and caregivers with young children, people who need to load and unload goods and purchases; people unable to travel far or transport goods over long distances, visually impaired people, people having a hearing impairment; and people using larger vehicles.
Everyone attending service or prayer; all religious officials, leaders, employees, and volunteers; and anyone visiting the site for secular activities or architectural interest should have complete access to and within all religious buildings. Providing space for wheelchairs and those using strollers and walkers throughout the seating area, or the flexibility of modifying the seating arrangement for each occasion will help the visitors access the space easily.
Many historic churches and cathedrals include physical barriers, such as internal changes in level and raised altars, which are difficult to change due to the building’s historical significance. In many cases, though, taking a flexible approach in the arrangement of services will result in a better inclusive design. In buildings such as mosques and temples, people are used to standing, sitting, or kneeling on the ground to worship and pray.
Consideration should also be given to people who are not able to do so. Seats must be in proper positions so that persons with physical or mobility impairments can fully participate. One possible arrangement for the new building is to provide a ramp for access to the sinking area in the prayer room. This makes the person sitting in the chair or using the wheelchair at the same height as the others when praying. All religious buildings, clubs, crematoriums, and cemetery churches shall have sanitary facilities that are based on universal design. Example: the provision of washing facilities in mosques.
Future of Universal Design
Universal Design offers an exciting and practical application to architectural research. Furthermore, it represents an intersection between accessibility, technology, and aesthetic appearance. It is ergonomic, efficient, inclusive, and multigenerational.