Universal Design is more than just ADA compliant, it takes into account the various factors that effect us all. It is a spectrum of design decisions from ones affecting those with obvious specific challenges, to subtle usability issues that enhance the final product for everyone.
Take ramps for example, a feature required for many buildings by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sure its obvious greatest need is for people in wheelchairs, but the marathon running mom pushing her child’s stroller also benefits. As does the delivery person with a cart load of packages, the person with medical issues that affect balance and even the hated skateboarder! (They’ll need it after they crash!)
But Universal Design is more than just accommodating physical needs, it can take into account differing perceptual and cognitive needs too. Thoughtful use of color contrasts can assist in easing navigation in large busy spaces, simple intuitive graphics make facilities obvious and functional.
Tactile clues not only help the blind, but also the distracted. Imagine holding an important conversation on the cell phone and feeling the raised bumps imbedded in the sidewalk as you near a trolly line, or hearing the beeps of a crosswalk signal as it nears it change. These elements are mainly designed to help with certain differing abilites, but DO affect us all.
Even more esoteric concepts can be part of Universal Design. Is it possible to create a public space that is so intuitive that it needs no signs? Could a building have no “accommodations” to those with differing physical abilities because the design is universal? It makes sense to invest in the design and planning taking into consideration a broader range of people. Access for all should be an invisible component of Design, not a grudging afterthought.
Universal Design means the design of products, environments, programs and services to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. (UN Convention on the Rights of Person with disabilities)