Broadly, universal design means that the products which designers design are universally
accommodating, that they cater conveniently for all their users. On the route
towards this goal a product that was initially designed primarily for the mass market of
normal able-bodied people could have been subsequently been refined and modified – the
effect, with accommodation parameters being extended, being that it would suit all its other potential users as well, including people with disabilities.
Five examples of this universal design process are cited, none of the products
concerned being ones that in previous forms had been geared to suit people with disabilities.
First, the remote-control television operator. Second, the personal computer – as word processor, electronic-mail communicator and, through the Internet, information provider.
Third, the mobile telephone. Fourth, the microwave cooker. Fifth, the standard car with
off-the-peg features such as automatic drive, central door-locking, electronic windows and
power-assisted steering. Good design for
The methodology of this design process is termed bottom up. The comparison is with a
product initially designed to meet the special needs of a particular group of people with
disabilities, one that was subsequently modified so that it suited normal able-bodied
people as well; here the design process would have been top down.
In the case of the five bottom-up examples cited, the extension of accommodation
parameters to take in people with disabilities was achieved by virtue of modern technology, most importantly electronic technology.
There is not therefore a straight analogy here with the architect, who when designing a
building aims to make it universally accommodating and convenient for all of its potential
users, since electronic technology cannot facilitate the accomplishment of all the activities
undertaken by each and every person who uses a building. But it does, for instance, serve well where automatic-opening doors are installed as normal provision to make it easier for everyone to get into and around public buildings.
The architect who takes the bottom-up route to universal design works on the premise
that the building users he or she is serving, including those with disabilities, are all people
who can be treated as normal people. The architect does not start with the presumption that people with disabilities are abnormal, are
peculiar and different, and that, in order to make buildings accessible to them, they should be packaged together and then, with a set of
special-for-the-disabled accessibility standards, have their requirements presented in topdown mode as add-ons to unspecified normal
For a building that is to cater conveniently for the needs of all its potential users, the architect, moving up from one row to the next, looks to expand the accommodation parameters of normal provision, and by doing so minimise the need for special provision
to be made for people with disabilities. The aim will be to ensure, so far as possible, that no one will be threatened by architectural disability
– from being unable or finding it very difficult to use a building or a feature of it on account of the way it was designed – or (meaning in effect the same thing) be subjected to architectural discrimination.
Against these criteria, judgements are made on how architects have tended to perform over the last fifty years or so, the subjects under
review being public buildings such as theatres, department stores, pubs, hotels and restaurants – ones which among their other amenities
have public toilets for the benefit of their customers.