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Universal Design: The Case for Accessibility for the Physically-Challenged

When it comes to public buildings, architects and designers have the responsibility of creating structures and facilities that can be used by as many people as can be.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was put in place to protect people with physical limitations from any form of discrimination from public life including work, education, mobility, and access to both private and public spaces open to the public. This is so that people with challenges physically can integrate with society and function as normally as they can despite their physical condition.

Defining Universal Design

Universal design is a standard in products and environment design that can be used to the greatest possible extent by all types of people, regardless of age, physical condition, and some other factors.

Seven Principles of Universal Design

1. Equitable Use

This means that the design applies to everyone giving users similar or equal use of the facilities or products- similar when possible, equivalent when not.

2. Flexibility in Use

This deals with the design’s adaptability for users of different preferences and abilities. It can be used by either a right-handed person or a lefty and adapts to a person’s pace.

3. Simple and Intuitive Use

The design is easy to understand and use regardless of a person’s knowledge, ability, comprehension, experience, language, and other similar concerns.

4. Perceptible Information

The design easily and effectively communicates necessary and critical information to the user despite the physical surroundings and the user’s sensory capabilities.

5. Tolerance of Error

The design minimizes the risk of hazards and consequences of accidents and mishaps by providing warnings and failsafe measures.

6. Low Physical Effort

The use of the facility and equipment requires very minimal use of force and strength which allows users to maintain their level of comfort.

7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

The size and space are designed to accommodate different types of reaches and mobility including adequate space for personal assistance or assistive devices.

Design Provisions for the Physically Impaired


Signages direct people with limited mobility to the proper spaces and areas which they can easily access and use. Signages have to be highly visible and easily understood by anyone, regardless of language and literacy.


Pathways and walkways should be clear and uninterrupted. There should be no physical obstructions that could limit the mobility of its users, or even endanger them. Proper clearances and finishes must be strictly observed upon its construction.

Access Ramps

Access ramps have certain design standards that should be met. A minimum slope and angle are required. It should not be too steep that a wheelchair-bound person will have a hard time going up and down the curb ramp. In the absence of a curb or access ramp, a wheelchair lift in Salt Lake City, Utah or Nashville, Tennessee, or anywhere else in the country, should be provided.

Pedestrian Crossing

Similar to access ramps, pedestrian crossings on streets and thoroughfares must also meet certain standards such as the width of space, gaps on islands, and other similar factors.

Parking Space

In the same manner, parking spaces for disabled drivers or those traveling with wheelchair users have to meet certain design standards and protocols. Dimensions, markers, and signages have to meet the required building standards for the safety and convenience of the users.

Like it or not, when it comes to the efficiency and effectiveness of a design, the physically impaired is one of the main considerations to measure a facility or product’s success.

Photo by Nayeli Dalton on Unsplash

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