Friday, September 11, 2015

Universal Design - Building for Everyone

The Independent Living Resource Centre recently hosted an information session on Universal Design.

Betty Dion, of Betty Dion Enterprises Limited was in town to share her 35 years of experience and expertise in universal and accessible design. She presented on the principles of universal design and how they can be incorporated into the built environment. "Incorporating universal design and accessibility is integral to good design as it ensures the usability of the built environment for all people, including persons with disabilities."

Dion has authored a book investigating how to create more accessible built environments for people with disabilities and older persons around the world. International Best Practices for Universal Design: A Global Review compares international codes and practices from 16 international jurisdictions, in order to determine the "best practice" for common accessibility issues. Some issues covered in the book include: doorways, ramps, washrooms, turning radius, communications, and the use of colour and texture in way-finding cues. 

At the Bally Haly Country Club in St. John's this week, Dion addressed a group of over 100 attendees, including politicians, architects, engineers, health care professionals, and members of local disability-related organizations.

The number of people worldwide living with at least one disability is exponentially increasing, and something needs to be done on a large scale to accommodate this growing number of individuals. In order to make an inclusive society a reality, it is necessary to identify and remove barriers to access. Universal Design and Inclusive Design provide guiding principles that consider the needs of everyone and seek to create an environment that is usable by the greatest number of people, regardless of ability.

The seven principles of Universal Design are:
1. Equitable Use: The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
2. Flexibility in Use: The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
3. Simple and Intuitive Use: Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user's experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
4. Perceptible Information: The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user's sensory abilities.
5. Tolerance for Error: The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
6. Low Physical Effort: The design can be used efficiently and comfortably with minimum fatigue.
7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user's body size, posture, or mobility.

A barrier-free environment is one that benefits everyone, not only people with recognized disabilities. Making buildings and other public spaces accessible to people with disabilities is about more than just building ramps. From bathrooms to classrooms, airports to workplaces, Universal Design takes into account the reality of these different environments and whether or not people with disabilities are fully able to benefit from them, as well as addressing any barriers that may be preventing full and equal access.

Betty Dion won the 'Accessibility by Design' Award for her work on the Ottawa McDonald-Cartier International Airport. After touring the airport, Dion had someone comment to her that they "didn't see anything for people with disabilities in there". That is exactly the point. Universal Design is not meant to be obvious or to single anybody out. It is meant to include all people, without segregation. Universal Design is just good design.

A couple of years ago, we built our beautiful new family home. We incorporated many elements of Universal Design when designing our home, and we created an accessible space that meets the needs of our family.

You can see our home featured on here -
My Houzz: Universal Design Helps an 8-Year-Old Feel at Home

For more information on Betty Dion and Betty Dion Enterprises Limited, visit

1 comment:

  1. I think it's really important to make sure that we are as conscious as we can be about the spaces in our homes and how it affects different people. Maybe it'd be good for me to keep a Universal Design book in storage…