Universal Design reshapes how people live, advocates say


LITTLE ROCK – Universal design is a concept that is reshaping how we live, advocates said Tuesday at a news conference to mark Universal Design Day in Arkansas, as proclaimed by Gov. Mike Beebe.

“What is universal design? It’s the design of any product or space to be usable by as many

people regardless of your age, ability or circumstances,” said LaVona Traywick, PhD, associate

professor-gerontology, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

A house that employs universal design may allow aging parents to remain in their own homes

longer and more safely, or allow young children to go about their daily activities without fear of

being hurt or having an accident as their motor skills develop. Examples of universal design

include showers designed without a “curb” that requires someone to step over it, levers instead

of doorknobs, or even a “salad spinner,” that makes an everyday chore easier.

Universal design is “going to be an asset for all of us as we age,” said Sherry Walker, state

AARP president.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and AARP Arkansas are among the

many groups that are part of Universal Design Arkansas. The coalition is also made up of the

Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Aging & Adult Services; Arkansas Home

Builders Association; Partners for Inclusive Communities; University of Arkansas for Medical

Sciences/Center on Aging-Northeast; and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Delta

Center on Aging.

As part of its universal design educational effort, Universal Design Arkansas also had a mobile

display showing how the design concept can be employed in real life.

Universal design shouldn’t be confused with “handicap accessible,” Traywick said, but by

definition a space or product that uses the principles of universal design will be accessible by

all, including the disabled.

“The paradigm of barrier-free or accessible design sometimes led to people being isolated,” she

said. For example there may be a ramp to the building, but it’s not at the main entrance, “so

people have to go into a different door. They can’t come in the way the majority of individuals

do. With universal design, we take out that concept of ‘separate’ and replace it with ‘usable by

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everyone’.”

Vanessa Nehus, principal investigator, Arkansas Disability and Health Program, Partner for

Inclusive Communities at the University of Arkansas, said that more than a fourth of Arkansans

26 percent – reported some kind of functional limitation that prevents a person from completing

a range of tasks. Universal design can provide the support to allow a person to maintain his or

her independence, she said.

Universal design’s seven principles allow for all people, young and old and with varying degrees

of ability to live and work more easily. The principles 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 and with a

minimum of 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.

For more information about universal design, visit www.universaldesignar.org.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.