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by Charles A. Sourby, MS Ed. CTRS-HTR

Recreation therapists, traditionally advocate for the clientele they serve. This is a call for all Recreation Therapists to advocate for Universal Design. Universal design enables everybody—not just people with disabilities—to navigate, manipulate, and appreciate the world.” Curb cuts, non-slip flooring, grab bars and automatic doors make life easier for everybody. Universal Design eliminates the need for special accommodations.

The Americans’ With Disabilities Act: (ADA 1990), covers the civil rights for people with disabilities. The ADA is there to insure reasonable accommodations in public places, prohibit discrimination based on disabling conditions and to define disabilities. Universal Design takes the ADA to the next level.

Product and space designers are considering the universal needs of all people. The increasing number of people aging has product designers “slowly beginning to solve problems using the principles of Universal Design”. This has a benefit for all people. New technologies are entering the market place: adjustable kitchen sinks, power assistance vehicles, automatic doors and foot buttons for elevators.

There are seven principles that uphold the philosophy of universal design:

1. Equitable: addresses wide range of needs

2. Flexibility in Use: “hands free” operation of faucets, sliding doors

3. Simple and Intuitive Use: high contrast, large “on/off” controls

4. Perceptible Information: Telephone & remotes with large buttons

5. Tolerance for Error: Glare reducing surfaces, non-slip floors

6. Low Physical Effort: fat pen barrels

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use: a standard width for doorways, roll-in showers and bathroom stalls for wheelchairs & walkers

Universal Design goes beyond ADA compliance. Many hotels and conference centers have installed features of universal design, making their facilities exceed ADA standards. Universal Design takes into account ease of mobility, distance, functionality. Universal Design can eliminate many problems. Architects and planners need to build an environment that serves an ever increasing diverse population.

Universal Design is not Assistive Technology. Think of accessibility as a continuum. On one end is Universal Design: on the other is assistive technology. Technologies including voice activated and keyless computer key-boards are for specific populations. Universal Design addresses the needs of the population as a whole. Together, both concepts improve the quality of life for everybody.

People without disabilities do not always appreciate the difficulties and embarrassment that comes with disabling conditions. The person with disabilities wants to function in the least restrictive environment. Universal design minimizes the disability and maximizes functioning for all. Universal Design brings the ADA up to date.

1 Adelson, Rachel (2004), Universal Design: Opening Every Door, Inside MS, October—December 2004.
2 Ibid
3 Ibid

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