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Universal design: why it’s about time

A sense of urgency is felt when someone declares “it’s about time!” We feel that way about the need to make our communities more welcoming to people affected by disability. When the design of something doesn’t work for someone, that person either gets excluded or has to struggle unnecessarily. It’s time for that to change. But keep reading, as there’s a play on words here…

What do you value most?

Really, think about it! Maybe it’s your family. Maybe it’s your health and well-being. Maybe it’s your vocation or leisure activity. Maybe it’s your reputation. There’s a very good chance that the common denominator to every answer to that question is time. We each have a finite amount of it, but we can’t tell anyone exactly how much we have. Time has different meanings for all of us and it’s something that we spend in vastly different ways.

We all benefit from more time.

One of the most significant outcomes of design that “just works” is more time for things that are important. This is where we start to see that universal design is about time, but first, let’s take disability out of the equation to start unpacking this idea.

Imagine if you had an extra 15 minutes for coffee in the morning. Imagine if you had a shorter commute and that meant an extra 30 minutes with your kids every day. Imagine if you had extra vacation time, which meant a few days of fishing to give your mind a break. Imagine if you had an extra 10 years of life to spend with the ones you love. Countless examples exist, and I think it’s safe to say that all of us agree that more time can be seen as a positive asset to our lives.

Now let’s bring disability back into the conversation. It doesn’t matter how you define disability here, just that you realize that everyday activities are typically more difficult for people whose bodies aren’t functioning at 100%. When everyday activities are more difficult, those things often take more time than if they were easy. Furthermore, when things are difficult, it’s more likely that someone will stop doing them. This can easily result in a negative impact on someone’s emotional and/or physical health.

Why universal design?

The core of our work is figuring out design solutions that can make everyday activities easier for all people affected by disability. Universal design is simply an approach to designing things that are functional for the diverse range of ages and abilities in our society. In other words, universal design is design that “just works” for everyone, instead of a specialized approach to meeting one person’s unique functional needs, but ignoring someone else’s.

If we want to create design solutions that benefit everyone, we need to focus on universal design. If the benefits include giving people more time for those things that are most meaningful, then why not focus on universal design?

Remember this… universal design: it’s about time.

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