Universal Design is about value

September 16, 2016

By Camilla Ryhl, Senior researcher

'Universal design is design for human diversity'

Universal design is a still a relatively new concept in Denmark, which gives the opportunity for discussion about values, equality and quality for all in the built environment.

Universal design is often understood as the same as handicap accessibility, but it's far from it.

Where handicap accessibility is interpreted as special design measures targeted at a specific user group, universal design is a design concept that thinks all users into a lifecycle perspective and thus recognizes that all people at some point in their lives will experience greater or lesser disability.

Thus, universal design does not differentiate between disabled and non-disabled, as is the case when you are making special efforts for a specific user group.

The goal of universal design, as originally formulated by the American Ron Mace, has from the beginning been meant to break down a simplistic user categorization, which maintains disabled users in a minority role, and instead provide a built environment that includes everyone and excludes no one.

The idea is based on the vision of equality and democratic rights and society's general responsibility to include and ensure equal access and participation in public life and public space.

The concept is thus both in its original and current form used, such as the core concept of the UN Disability Convention, not the same as 'accessibility', but rather a new concept which holds a nuanced understanding of user needs, and opens up a discussion of building role and responsibilities in relation. physical, sensory, cognitive, cultural and social diversity.

With universal design you open up so that all of the diversity of user needs can be met with diversity in the solutions.

Camilla Ryhl is one of the keynote speakers at the conference Design and technology for people with disabilities, organized by Odense Municipality and the Council of Ministers on October 6th in Odense, in connection with WHINN. Read more about the conference and the program here.