What is Universal Design?
Universal Design is a design philosophy that ensures that products, buildings, environments and experiences are innately accessible to as many people as possible, regardless of their age, level of ability, cultural background, or any other differentiating factors that contribute to the diversity of our communities. Universal Design can be applied to all fields of design, including but not limited to product design, interactive design, architecture and urban planning.
How is this different to accessible design?
‘Access’ and ‘accessibility’ is largely concerned with fulfilling a set of measurable requirements (technical notes and specifications) as prescribed in legislative requirements such as the Building Code of Australia and other relevant standards.
This often results in ‘accessible’ features being incorporated as afterthoughts, and commonly relies on specialised features to fulfil legislative requirements such as lifts and ramps. Mechanical features such as lifts can break down, and a dependence on these can render an entire building inaccessible to sections of the community.
Universal Design separates itself from accessible design by focusing on user-centred design from the earliest stages of a project, rather than just at the end stage. This results in the seamless integration of inclusive features that are in many cases invisible and does not stigmatise or separate users, and ensures that the experience of a building is shared by as many people as possible.
How much will Universal Design add to the costs of my project?
In most cases Universal Design will not add any additional costs to a project. In fact, applying Universal Design principles can often save costs, particularly in the long run, by lessening the dependence on mechanical features that require maintenance such as lifts, or retrofitting features to comply with legislation. In addition, Universal Design can often increase revenue and financial viability at a facility by catering for a broader cross-section of the community, thereby increasing patronage.
For futher information regarding the Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority's use of universal design principles, please contact Michael Walker.