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HomeLifestyleHealth & WellnessUniversal Design: Creating Spaces and Places for All

Universal Design: Creating Spaces and Places for All

Inaccessible Design 

Getting around with a disability is tricky. When I go to the corner store, I’m confronted by a sidewalk with an entrance ramp, but no exit ramp at the other end. This means I have to drive my mobility scooter in the street. It’s an excellent example of inaccessible design, which is only usable by a portion of society. 

Accessible Design

In 1991, the Department of Justice began implementing and enforcing changes to all “public accommodation, commercial facilities, and state and local government facilities, including public transportation facilities,” to follow new standards designed to facilitate use by all Americans, regardless of (physical) disability. A good example of accessible design is the above-mentioned sidewalk ramp or curb cut. When done right, this simple modification helps a wide section of the public, including strollers, bikes, carts, and wheelchairs/scooters.

While these changes did increase access for people with disabilities, they were usually pricey retrofits, like a ramp at the side of the building, which is inconvenient to users, separating groups into those who use the front door and those who use the side door.

Universal Design/Lifespan Design 

Ease of use for everyone is the goal of Universal Design (U.D.). It is also called Lifespan Design, because it is meant to be accessible throughout our entire lives, from infancy to infirmity. This benefits the whole community, can be used by everyone at the same time and place, and mostly eliminates obsolescence. A good example of U.D. is at the grocery store: How much easier is it to get out of the grocery store with five bags and two kids when you don’t have to fumble with the door because it simply slides out of your way?

According to North Carolina State University’s Center for Universal Design, the Principles of U.D. focus on simplicity and ease of use for everyone. They include these standards:

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Goals of U.D., according to the Whole Building Design Guide, are the following:

Body fit: accommodating a wide range of body sizes and abilities

Comfort: keeping demands within desirable limits of body function

Awareness: ensuring that critical information for use is easily perceived

Understanding: making methods of operation and use intuitive, clear and unambiguous

Wellness: contributing to health promotion, avoidance of disease and prevention of injury

Social integration: treating all groups with dignity and respect

Personalization: incorporating opportunities for choice and the expression of individual preferences

Cultural appropriateness: respecting and reinforcing cultural values and the social, economic and environmental context of any design project

As we continue to expand our definition of “accessible,” beyond mobility challenges to include as much of society as possible, we move toward customizable experiences. For example, Hire Autism recommends offering options like lighting and volume controls to reduce external stimuli, quiet spaces, sound-proofing and modifiable furniture, such as standing desks. According to the Pure Michigan website, Lansing organizations have made it their business to supply more sensory-friendly programming: 

Potter Park Zoo: The zoo “welcomes anyone with unique challenges [like] autism or developmental disabilities,” for close-up meetings with animals.

Abrams Planetarium’s Sky Theater: On the third Sunday of each month, they “run with the lights up, the sound low and the theater doors open,” providing space to run around.

Impression 5 Science Center: The center “plans monthly events that reduce crowds and limit sounds, scents and lighting.” 

Launch: The indoor trampoline attraction at Meridian Mall in Okemos has “V.I.P. Time,” the second Monday of each month, when “jumpers with special needs take over.” Parents and guardians are free.

Celebration Cinema and AMC Cinema: Both offer “sensory-friendly movie-watching experiences with benefits such as lights turned up and the sound turned down.”

Do You Know Something I Don’t? 
If you know about a fun event or useful resource for the differently abled community, contact me and I will include it on the Live. Love. Local. Michigan website.

Heidi Farmer
Heidi Farmer
A dedicated Community Writer specializing in politics, places, and people within Genesee County, Heidi holds an Associate of Applied Arts Degree in Electronic Communications from Delta College, and a Bachelor's Degree in Graphic Design with a Minor in Technical and Professional Writing from Saginaw Valley State University. Heidi's talent as an illustrator earned her the Illustrator of the Year Award during her time at Delta. She began her writing career in 2013 with the Lifestyle magazine North Midland Living. Heidi is also a versatile multimedia artist driven by a passion for expanding green spaces and promoting the planting of Native Species for ecological balance and serene human interaction.
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