The National Disability Authority defines Universal Design as “the design and composition 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.” In essence, spaces that are designed with this concept in mind are places where anyone with or without a physical or mental nuance can thrive. They’re also barrier-free and anticipate the needs and safety of those living there for their entire lifespan, even taking into account mobility changes. For example, a home or business with hallways wide enough for a person using a wheelchair or walker to navigate as well as doors that automatically open would be considered universally designed. Why? Because both attributes allow the person using a device as well as a person walking to interact with the space without either feeling hindered.
How is this different than accessible design, you ask? The Universal Design Project defines accessible design as that which specifically deals with tackling challenges faced by those with a disability. A wheelchair lift, for example, would be considered accessible because a person who doesn’t use a wheelchair wouldn’t interact with the lift, making it accessible and not universal by nature.
The differences between the two — as well as how designers and homeowners approach them — are layered, so to help us better understand we’ve asked a few experts to put together some quick ways you can make your own home more comfortable for any visitor, no matter their physical or mental needs. Meet professor Aimi Hamraie, Imani Barbarin of Crutches & Spice, and Sitting Pretty’s Rebekah Taussig. These three all bring a unique and well-researched POV to the conversation, so scroll down and get ready to take some notes. Trust me. After this you’ll wonder why more homes aren’t already practicing universal design. Enjoy! —Garrett