Universal design doesn’t just happen because someone says it should happen. There are several issues that we believe need to be understood:
The Social Problem
People affected by disability experience lower quality of life because of design that doesn’t accommodate their functional needs.
The Industry Problem
The functional needs of the disability community aren’t fully understood by most people who design things, while the people who have in-depth knowledge about disability and experience with disability are rarely involved with design.
The Market Perception
Universal design is perceived as specialized, even though it’s useful for everyone. For people with disabilities, its main benefit is independence. For people not affected by disability, its main benefit is convenience. Curiously, universal design is a tough sell to the mainstream when there’s a more prominent benefit to the disability community because of the misperception of “universal design is for those other people, but not people like me.”
Disability, as associated with health problems, is part of the human experience, yet our pride creates a sense of denial about it being something that affects us personally until there’s no way it can be denied.
Disability, as a design problem that results from a mismatch between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives (as defined by the World Health Organization), isn’t well understood by those who have different experiences than others.
In order to develop a sense of care for people affected by disability, which leads to an understanding of their equal value in our society, and thus the importance of universal design, we must first overcome our own ignorance about disability, and then get over the subsequent feelings of pity. Only then will we be able to move into meaningful action of creating inclusive design solutions.
Friends and Family
You may notice that we use the phrase “people affected by disability” much more than “people with disabilities.” This is very intentional. We believe that disability affects friends and family in ways that can lower their quality of life as well.
When the needs of friends and family of people with disabilities are considered along the individuals with disabilities themselves, the number of people that universal design can benefit upon implementation is over 50% of the population.