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The Seven Principles of Universal Design

Universal design, according to NC State University’s Center for Universal Design (CUD), “is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design”. We believe that design for inclusivity is a pillar of good design of public space.

The design of a building influences an individual’s ability to move, hear, see, and communicate effectively. The accommodations and environments required by those who use mobility aids, have visual or hearing impairments, or have mental illness or learning difficulties, need to be understood and addressed in the design of public and common spaces. The design should enable everyone to participate equally, safely, and independently, with dignity and confidence in everyday activities.

Established by a group of architects, engineers, product designers and environmental design researchers, the Principles of Universal Design provide a framework for a wide range of design disciplines including products, environments, and communications.

Seven Principles of Universal Design

1. Equitable Use: The design should be useful, and appeal to individuals with a wide range of capabilities.
2. Flexibility in Use: A wide range of preferences and abilities should be easily accommodated within the design.
3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Regardless of the user’s experiences, knowledge or capabilities, the design should be straightforward and easy to understand.
4. Perceptible Information: Any information pertinent to use should be clearly communicated, regardless of the user’s sensory capabilities.
5. Tolerance for Error: The design should minimize risk and potential for accidents.
6. Low Physical Effort: The design should require minimal effort of its users, and should be comfortable and effective.
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Size and shape of the design should accommodate all body sizes, shapes, or capabilities.

 Goals of Universal Design

 In recent years, the University at Buffalo’s Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA) built upon the CUD’s principles of universal design. The first 4 goals relate to human performance, while the last 3 relate to social participation. Wellness (goal #5) provides a bridge between the individual and communal goals. All eight goals are rooted in evidence-based design. IDeA expresses the goals in relation to quantifiable results:

1. Body fit: Accommodate a wide a range of body sizes and abilities.
2. Comfort: Keep demands within desirable limits of body function.
3. Awareness: Ensure that critical information for use is perceived easily.
4. Understanding: Make methods of operation and use intuitive, clear, and unambiguous.
5. Wellness: Contribute to health promotion, avoidance of disease, and prevention of injury.
6. Social integration: Treat all groups with dignity and respect.
7. Personalization: Incorporate opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences.
8.  Appropriateness: Respect and reinforce cultural values and the social and environmental context of any design project.

Examples of Universal Design Applied to Institutional Design 

• Level ground entrance and ramp access
• Slip-resistant surfaces
• Automatic doors
• Escalators, elevators, and/or moving sidewalks
• Wide doorways, interior hallways, and elevators with turning space
• Lever door handles instead of door knobs
• Large flat-panel light switches instead of toggle switches
• Integrated, dispersed, and adaptable seating; e.g. chairs with and without armrests
• Adequate workstation space for people who are left- or right-handed.

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Parkin Architects Limited
Parkin is an active participant in contributing to the knowledge base for creating healthcare environments. We were responsible for the development of the Accessibility chapter in the MOHLTC Generic Output Specifications (GOS). We conducted considerable research into Universal Design and accessibility standards in different jurisdictions, working with consultants to develop an appropriate document.

We provided training to all Parkin staff on the ODA and AODA Standards, prior to their becoming effective for private companies in January 2012.  Pending the Built Environment Accessibility Standard being finalized and made law in Ontario, we continue to work with a variety of accessibility standards such as those developed by ORC, CSA, and local municipal bodies, as well as the 2012 OBC Accessibility regulations as amended in January 2015.



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