March 8, 2023

Does Your Design Process Include a Universal Approach?

Universal Design starts with an inclusive, user-centered design process. User-centered design is a collection of processes and exercises that focus on putting users at the center of design. It considers the user’s requirements, objectives, and feedback. Satisfying user’s needs and wants becomes a priority, and every design decision is evaluated in the context of whether it delivers value to the users.

Universal Design thinking and strategy is an approach rather than a code that establishes the framework for a space designed for all. Your stakeholders should include individuals with diverse abilities who can provide insights into their specific requirements and challenges. In response, and being informed by new knowledge, the design team will develop creative design iterations that are truly more inclusive. Here are some things to consider when starting down the design path:

  • Universal Design should be front and center, integrated into the architecture, and not a bolt-on strategy that checks a box.
  • Lead a discussion with the Owner on “how is their space supporting the organization's DE&I values?”  Universal Design promotes inclusive design best practices to support these promises in the built environment.
  • Have a fundamentally solid wayfinding and signage strategy starting as someone enters the site.  Does it meet the intuitive test? Is the design easy to understand? For signage and graphics, have you considered the font size, contrast, colors, images, and lighting to work in harmony?
  • How do people with low or no vision find their way? What architectural and engineering design features can help them?
  • What communication strategies do people with hearing loss rely on? Eliminate visual clutter, and glare while fostering face-to-face communication layouts.
  • Have you included a quiet room or quiet zone in the facility for those who become overstimulated? 
  • Does the design allow individuals to maintain their independence without having to ask for help?  Think about equitable use for reach range and access.
  • Does the design minimize hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions? Can a ramp be used in place of a stair? If you have stairs, have you provided visual and tactile strategies? Have you softened all corners and edges of millwork, furniture, and counters? Do your glass walls and doors have warning decals appropriately positioned? Children are not accustomed to interior glazing.
  • Can someone in a mobility device move from space to space without barriers? Do seating areas, workstations, restrooms, and conference rooms easily accommodate mobility devices?
  • Are you familiar with the five significant changes in A117.1-2017?
  • Have you considered simple technologies available today that can assist people with disabilities?
  • Is Universal Design certification of interest to the Owner?
  • And finally, create measures of success that can be validated post-occupancy with the stakeholders.  Did the design accomplish the Owner’s goals for inclusion?

Projects that incorporate Universal Design at the forefront of the design process have the potential to make daily and work life healthier, more productive, and friendlier and require continuous improvement toward the ultimate goal of full inclusion. Organizations that are implementing Universal Design strategies in their built environments ultimately see it as a tangible benefit and a return on their investment.

Progressive Companies can help you get started on your journey. Contact us for more information.

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