By s.e. smith, Networx
Kaylan Dunlap, LPTA, CASp, of Evan Terry Associates, an architecture firm in Alabama that specializes in Universal Design and works with both local Birmingham remodeling contractors as well as clients in other areas, was kind enough to take some time to talk with me about universal design, some things to keep in mind while developing and planning spaces, and what to look for in a Universal Design consultant. As a wheelchair user, Dunlap knows about the importance of universal design firsthand, as she explained to me in our interview: “I think of Universal Design as having been applied when I realize I’ve gotten into or through a building or space and I’ve not had to plan a strategy to get into the building or space.”
She articulated the Seven Principles of Universal Design developed by Ronald L. Mace and collaborators in 1997: equitable use, flexible use, simple and intuitive, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low effort, size and space for approach and use. All of these qualities integrate to create a space that is easy to use for people of all ability levels, without making anyone feel singled out for attention. Think, for example, of a parking garage that uses colors and shapes to mark out different sections in addition to letters and numbers, to help people with a variety of learning styles remember where they are.
Simple measures like lowering light switches and counters, using rocker switches instead of toggles, and rearranging furniture to create clear and easily-navigated pathways can make a space more welcoming. In any approach to universal design, people should think about what will make the space inviting while minimizing effort for any user. Something like a rocker switch is easier to use for someone with poor motor control, for example, as well as being useful for people with their hands full or in a hurry. The low effort built into the switch design benefits many different users of the space, without inconveniencing anyone and it is a relatively simple project that can be completed quickly by a local electrician.