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Universal design is an amazing concept! People of all abilities can have wonderful experiences in the same spaces. But what does this actually look like in real life?

Imagine that you are taking your young toddler to her first Lunchtime Doodles class at the new community arts center. You’re running behind and you’re a little stressed out. You have unloaded little Jilly from her car seat, and loaded Jilly’s brother, Johnny, into the stroller. You’ve strapped your diaper bag on your back and have grabbed your hot cup of coffee. Loaded down with your gear and youngins, you begin to make your way to the entry of the arts center. Fortunately, the sidewalk is distinctly separated from vehicles – you don’t need to worry about Jill running further ahead. The sidewalk is conveniently cut so you can push Johnny’s stroller through, and don’t have to do the stroller-curb-hop-holding-a-coffee dance.

Image: Osarugue Igbinoba on Unsplash

 

As you approach the door to the building, the sidewalk gradually ramps up to the height of the building entrance. You begin hoping that a nice stranger near the building entrance will open the door for you and your brood. But as you approach, the doors automatically swing open! The potential coffee spilling, kid crying, door slamming crisis is averted, and you can easily make your way inside.

Image: Vincentas Liskauskas on Unsplash

 

You begin looking for someone to give you directions as you walk into the main concourse of the arts center. Immediately you see clear wayfinding signs that point you down the hall. You find the purple Piscasso-themed doorway that you were looking for. You usher Jilly into the classroom with minutes to spare and meet her teacher before returning to the concourse. It’s surprising by how quiet and calming the busy space seems to be. There isn’t the normal cacophony of noise you generally associate with this type of facility. You sit down with Johnny and enjoy the peaceful sound of the fountain at the concourse hub.

Image: Camerauthor Photos on Unsplash

Universal Design

The preceding story is intended to illustrate the benefits of universal design. Universal design is the design of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability, or disability. The same features that make it safer and easier for a parent to push a stroller from a minivan to the classroom make it much easier for a person using a wheelchair to navigate the space independently. It is also very convenient to the teacher pushing a cart full of supplies, a delivery person, or someone who has recently sprained their ankle and needs crutches. The intuitive wayfinding and navigation of the space is not only helpful for stressed out parents. They also make the world easier to navigate for people who speak different languages or have hearing impairments. Just as the extra care to the acoustics of the space can help people with noise sensititivty or hearing loss. And the calming fountain at the center of the space, well, that can help people with visual impairments orient themselves in a building.

People-First Design

If an environment is accesible, usable, convenient, and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. At Design Collaborative, we believe that considering the diverse needs, backgrounds, and abilities of everyone through the design process is fundamental to good design. It’s People-First design. We are committed to creating spaces that are universally accessible, welcoming, and engaging for all members of our communities.

Here are a few other examples of how universal design is implemented into projects:

Promenade Park

  • A special grooved pathway follows the trails through the park, acting as a guide for those who are visually impaired, particularly individuals who use a walking cane to help navigate.
  • The canoe/kayak launch is designed to make it easier for everyone to get in and out of their vessels and onto the river.
Promenade Park Universal Design Cane Trail Input Fort Wayne Promenade Park Universal Design Canoe Ramp
Promenade Park Universal Design Cane Trail Input Fort Wayne Promenade Park Universal Design Canoe Ramp
Katz, Sapper, Miller Office Height Adjustable Desk Katz, Sapper, Miller Office Universal Design Height Adjustable Desk

Katz, Sapper, Miller Office

  • A specially considered design element in this project is their height adjustable reception desk, welcoming to people of different heights and people who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices.
  • Adjustable desks throughout the office were also incorporated to create flexibility for people to work in different positions.
Katz, Sapper, Miller Office Height Adjustable Desk Katz, Sapper, Miller Office Universal Design Height Adjustable Desk

SAFE Federal Credit Union

  • Down in South Carolina, the SAFE FCU headquarters was designed with carefully thought-out graphics and wayfinding signage. These environmental graphic elements help give employees and members clear direction, as well as aligning with the SAFE brand. The building was also designed with a room that has felt walls for anyone who needs space and privacy.
SAFE Federal Credit Union Universal Design Wayfinding Signage SAFE Federal Credit Union Privacy Room
SAFE Federal Credit Union Universal Design Wayfinding Signage SAFE Federal Credit Union Privacy Room
People First Places Mural Universal Design

Design Collaborative

  • DC’s very own workspace is all about people-first places as well and has several elements that speak to universal design. Open corridors and few doors make the space easy to navigate whether walking, pushing a cart full of samples, or navigating in a wheelchair.
  • There is also an accessible restroom and shower, not only provided for employees to shower and change after a quick run at lunch, but is also a gret feature for people not comfortable using the men’s or women’s restroom.
  • A mother’s room is positioned near the accessible restroom, with space for pregnant or nursing mothers to have some privacy and take care of their needs.
People First Places Mural Universal Design

These are just a few very specific examples of how design can expand to meet the needs and experience of more people, but universal design is something that can always include more. At the start of every project, DC’s unique process allows us to get to the heart of every project and incorporate universal design from the beginning.

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