In Other Words: Communicating Across a Life Span

Universal Design in Print and Web-based Communication


The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against disabled individuals, and mandates that public organizations and services provide reasonable accommodations to meet varied physical needs. The concept of "universal design" goes beyond what is mandated by the ADA. It is an approach to design that not only addresses specific physical disabilities, but also takes into account a wide array of physical, cognitive, and linguistic abilities of people throughout the world over an entire life span.

"Universal design," says Valerie Fletcher, executive director of the Institute for Human Centered Design in Boston, "assumes human ability is endlessly varied and changes over time." An example of universal design is curb cuts. Required by law, curb cuts not only accommodate people who use wheelchairs, they also benefit children on scooters, adults pushing baby carriages and wheeled suitcases, and seniors using walkers.

According to the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University, "Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. The to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost."


Helen Osborne, M.Ed., OTR/L, President, Health Lit
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