Universal design is an approach to residential planning that works to ensure buildings can be used by everyone, regardless of age or level of ability. Ronald L. Mace, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, who coined the terms “universal design” said “[t]he universal design concept increases the supply of usable housing by including universal features in as many houses as possible . . . and allows people to remain in their homes as long as they like.”
Universal design is not synonymous with accessibility for individuals with disabilities. That is only part of universal design – the design decisions are intended to work for everyone. A family with young children may have concerns about children falling down stairs or have to deal with the inconvenience of carrying both groceries and small children up a flight of stairs. Under universal design principles, these concerns are addressed by layouts being at grade or an elevator or lift providing assistance. Similarly, children frequently want to cook with parents but single height counters are too high and using stools can be precarious. Under universal design principles counters are at varying heights or can be adjusted so that shorter individuals can work at a space appropriately sized for them. Similarly, seniors who wish to age in their own homes do not have to spend additional monies to retrofit their living space because under universal design, there are either no stairs or there is an existing mechanical device for multi-level living, there exist built in hand-rails that are multi-functional and thus inobtrusive, doorways are sized to allow for walkers and wheelchairs, showers are curbless, and kitchen cabinetry are at reachable heights.
Universal design means only that buildings and exterior spaces are designed to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible. The living environment does not discriminate or create a false “normality.” It simply provides a beautiful space without barriers.