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
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
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
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.