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Universal Design



Recreation & horticultural therapist traditionally advocate for the clientele they help. The Americans’ With Disabilities Act: (ADA 1990), covers the civil rights for people with disabilities. The ADA is there to insure reasonable accommodations in public places, prohibit discrimination based on disabling conditions and to define disabilities. The ADA has paved the way to a new concept called Universal Design. Universal Design creates an environment where fewer and less costly modifications are needed.


“Universal design enables everybody—not just people with disabilities—to navigate, manipulate, and appreciate our world.” Curb cuts, non-slip flooring, grab bars and automatic doors make life easier for everybody.

Universal design has developed over the past 14 years but, is not exactly universal. Universal Design can eliminate the need for special accommodations.


Product and space designer are considering the universal needs of all people. The increasing number of people aging has product designers “slowly beginning to solve problems using the principles of Universal Design”. This has a benefit for all people. New technologies are entering the market place: adjustable kitchen sinks, power assistance vehicles, automatic doors and foot buttons for elevators.


There are seven principles that uphold the philosophy of universal design:


  • Equitable: addresses wide range of needs


  • Flexibility in Use: “hands free” operation of faucets, sliding doors


  • Simple and Intuitive Use: high contrast, large “on/off” controls


  • Perceptible Information: Telephone & remotes with large buttons


  • Tolerance for Error: Glare reducing surfaces, non-slip floors


  • Low Physical Effort: fat pen barrels


  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: a standard width for doorways roll-in showers and bathroom stalls for wheelchairs & walkers


 Universal Design goes beyond ADA compliance. Many hotels and conference have installed features of universal design, making their facilities exceed ADA standards. Universal Design takes into account ease of mobility, distance, functionality. Universal Design can eliminate many problems. Architects and planners need to build and environment that serves an ever increasing diverse population.


Universal Design is not Assistive Technology. Think of accessibility as a continuum. On one end is Universal Design: on the other is assistive technology. Technologies such as voice activated, keyless computer key-boards are designed for specific populations. Universal Design addresses the needs of the population as a whole. Together, both concepts improve the quality of life for everybody.

People who do not have disabilities do not always appreciate the difficulties and embarrassment that comes with having disabling conditions. The person with disabilities wants to function in the least restrictive environment. Universal design minimizes the disability and maximizes functioning for all. Universal Design brings the ADA up to date.



Adelson, Rachel  (2004), Universal Design: Opening Every Door,  Inside MS, October—December 2004.