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Green & Sustainable Construction

What Is Universal Design?

What Is Universal Design?

Ron Mace, founder of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, coined the term “universal design” to describe the concept of designing products and environments to be attractive and usable by everyone to the greatest extent possible—regardless of age or ability. A number of other terms are synonymous with universal design—design for all, inclusive design, transgenerational design, and lifespan design. No matter what it’s called, however, the ultimate goal is the same.


James Joseph Pirkl, FIDSA, professor emeritus at Syracuse University and founding director of Transgenerational Design Matters, Inc., points to the universality of the approach: “Transgenerational design accommodates, and appeals to, people of all ages and abilities: the young, the old, the able, the disabled—without penalty to any group. A transgenerational house is a human-centered house. It’s not about building specialized ‘elderly’ housing or just providing ‘adaptive’ products like grab bars, lever door handles, and toilet seat raisers. It is about designing residential environments and household products that accommodate and benefit the widest market segments without penalty to any group.”


Mary Jo Peterson, a certified kitchen and bath designer, aging-in-place specialist, and active adult specialist in housing, agrees: “When I explain universal design, I talk about designing the space so that it will support and enhance the life of whoever lives in it for the life of the house, because needs in the household and demands on the house change over time, and the people who live in and visit the house change over time.”


Experts who promote universal design stress that it’s about more than standards and accessibility codes. “Universal design unites health care, design, production, and building professionals to create products and environments that accommodate human functional diversity and changes that occur secondary to illness, injury, and aging,” says Susan Mack, president of Homes for Easy Living Universal Design Consultants, a certified aging-in-place specialist, and a licensed occupational therapist. “It enhances quality of life for people of all ages and abilities by improving safety, ergonomics, and work efficiency.”


Excerpted from Universal Design Ideas for Style, Comfort & Safety, available through RSMeans.


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