Applying the principles of Universal Design makes structures — whether physical or not — accessible to everyone. Originally, changes to the physical environment of buildings and public spaces were done to ensure physical access for people with disabilities.
However, an unforeseen outgrowth of these accommodations soon became apparent. Shortly after these principles were implemented, it was discovered that people without disabilities also used and benefited from the accommodations originally intended only for people with disabilities.
What’s more, it was found that these principles anticipated needs, and, if followed before construction, post-construction changes become unnecessary. Thus, the idea is to put accommodations in place before an individual, with or without a disability, needs them. ‘Pre-fitting,’ not ‘retro-fitting,’ is the aim, and is often less pricey and time-consuming than trying to make accommodations ‘after the fact’.
Examples of Universal Design in the physical environment:
- Public buildings with wide hallways and elevator doors (e.g. useful for those pushing supply carts or transporting large pieces of furniture)
- TV programs with captions (e.g. useful in noisy spaces such as restaurants and bars or for people learning English as a second language)
- Curb cuts, ramps. (e.g. useful for those pushing baby strollers, bicycle and skateboard riders, the elderly, etc.)