Universal Access for Who?
Universal Design, which is the action (verb) of creating Universal Access (adjective), benefits a large percentage of our population. Universal Design, which can also be referred to as “good design” recognises that all people have different requirements and abilities, that would enable them to contribute fully in all spheres if life.
Universal Access responds to individual and shared needs and is not associated with “special” needs.
Therefore being cognisant and designing appropriately means considering the needs of children, elderly people, persons with mobility, sight and/or cognitive limitations, persons who have linguistic challenges (eg: foreigners, people who are uneducated or persons with various forms of dyslexia), women who are pregnant, parents pushing prams or strollers, persons who are inebriated, persons who have become obese, very tall people, very short people, service personnel (cleaning staff and people doing deliveries) and people who require luggage access. The crux of Universal Access is therefore that all people, at some point during their lifetime, will experience “disability” due to being unable to participate in a social, cultural, political or economic activity. It is therefore fundamental to the concept of UA that it be understood that it is not the person that has the disability or lack of function that prevents their participation, but rather that the environment, service, facility, information or system poses a disability onto a person.
These concepts are not new and are largely supported by well published experts in the field of Universal Design (such as W. Preiser and E. Ostroff (editors) of the Universal Design Handbook (2001), published in the USA by McGraw-Hill, and S. Goldsmith author of Universal Design: A manual of Practical Guidelines for Architects (2000) published in Oxford by Architectural Press).
Selwyn Goldsmith made valuable contribution of the understanding of Universal Design, and one such contribution was through the well published and commonly referenced drawing, called the “Universal Design Pyramid” (2000: 3), which demonstrates the bottom-up approach of UD, with the bottom row demonstrating fit and agile people and the top row demonstrating a person who would require the assistance of two other people. Goldsmith’s pyramid serves to illustrate people who are most vulnerable to architectural discrimination which is consequently depicted by persons with mobility limitations, with the only exception being a person using a guide dog (in row 5 of the original pyramid).
Preiser and Ostroff (2001: Chapter 3.11) made the following statement, referring to the designing for people on either end of the age spectrum:
“As we struggle for a world that is seamlessly accessible, seamlessly supportive, and seamlessly caring, we must never forget that no machine will ever be able to replace the superior wisdom that comes only with age and experience.” And “neither should we forget that it is childhood that provides the foundation for that superior wisdom”
Working as a Universal Access Consultant and having the privilege to have experience the process of understanding that many of my clients go through, I wanted to be able to use the concept of the pyramid from Goldsmith, but in the broader context. Often (in fact mostly) clients who would like to have a Universal Design Access Plan put in place to reach better BBBEE scores or to accommodate an employee who has become disabled, consider people with mobility limitations as the only spectrum of people to accommodate when it comes to Universal Access. In order to overcome this limited understanding of the users, I have added to and slightly modified Goldsmith’s pyramid to be more inclusive of the spectrum of people who benefit from Universal Access, not only in the built environment but also through services, information and systems.
While the top of the pyramid is still defined by a person with a mobility limitation who requires the assistance of two people, the rest of the pyramid demonstrates the wider range of users of spaces, services and environments, including a range of functional abilities, cultural requirements, daily activities, a variation in age, health, communication and auditory requirements. The notion of the pyramid is that by designing for a particular row, the users below that row would also benefit from the resulting design, but that users above that row would be unable to function optimally in the design.
If you’d like to find out more about how to include various users in a space, service and environment, please contact us directly, we’d love to hear from you.