© The Norwegian State Council on Disability
Ingrid Bugge from Norwegian
Olav Rand Bringa
Edel Kristin Heggem
Anders Dahlquist, Autofill Europe AB, Stockholm
We hope this report represents a step in this direction. We have examined the concept of universal design and discussed it in relation to the principle of equal status, planning, architecture and product design. The report has been prepared by Finn Aslaksen, Steinar Bergh, Olav Rand Bringa and Edel Kristin Heggem commisioned by The Norwegian State Council on Disability, and its contents have been reworked after discussions with the following consultants:
Jørgen Amdam, The Regional College, Volda
Jon Bottheim, The Norwegian Federation of the Organisations of Disabled People
Tore Brantenberg, The Technical University of Trondheim
Jon Christophersen, The Norwegian Building Research Institute
Else Marie Dahll, The Norwegian Federation of Interior and Furniture Designers
Tone Gengenbach, The Norwegian Research Council
Edel Kristin Heggem, The Norwegian association of the Disabled
Ketil Kiran, The National Association of Norwegian Architects
Wilhelm Lange Larssen, The Norwegian Council of Design
Stein Longum, Norwegian Rail, Department of Design
The council would like to thank everybody for the good execution of the work. We also appreciate the valuable contributions from the following people: Anne Alnús, The College of Arts and Crafts/TM, Oslo, Ivor Ambrose, The Danish Building Research Institute, Francesc Aragall, CRID, Barcelona, Spain, Hubert Froyen, Provinciale Hogeschool Limburg, Department of Architecture, Belgium, Guri Henriksen, The Norwegian Association if the Disabled, Oslo, Pip Hesketh, England, Karin Høyland, The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research at the Norwegian Institute of Technology, Trondheim, Tore Lange, The Norwegian State Housing Bank, Oslo, Arne Lein, The Norwegian Association of the Disabled, Oslo, Tone Manum, The Norwegian Association of the Disabled, Oslo, James Mueller, Center for Universal Design, North Carolina, USA, Tone Rønnevig, The Norwegian State Housing Bank, Oslo, Harald Zahl, The University of Helsingfors, Finland, James Sandhu, University of Northumbria, Special needs research Unit, England, Odd Walter Syltevik, The Norwegian Association of the Disabled, Trondheim, C. J. Walsh, Dublin, Ireland, Poul Østergaard, The School of Architecture, Århus, Denmark.
The work has been carried out within the project: "Adaption of the Local Environment", which has been a part of The Government's Plan of Action for disabled people, 1994 - 1997. The Norwegian State Council on Disability has been responsible for the project, which has been financed by the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs.
We hope this report will inspire further development of both theory and method to arrive at solutions everyone can use.
The Norwegian State Council on Disability, Oslo, December 1997
Anne Margrethe Brandt
Head of Division
The aim of universal design is to develop theory, principles and solutions to enable everybody to use the same physical solutions to the greatest extent possible, whether it be buildings, outdoor-areas, means of communication or household goods.
Universal design opposes, ideologically and politically, all unnecessary and stigmatizing specialized solutions, whether they are intended for people with disabilities or other groups of the population. Equal status, equal treatment and equal merit are key concepts.
The principles and definitions of universal design developed by The Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University in USA, are the basis on which we build this report. Their work has brought us one important step further. The thinking related to "accessibility for disabled people", has not been clear enough to counteract unnecessarily specialized solutions or to encourage equal status. The notion of "design for all" is in many ways synonymous with universal design.
The Center for Universal Design defines universal design and the purpose of the concept in the following way:
"Universal design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design"
"The intent of the universal design concept is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by more people at little or no extra cost. The universal design concept targets all people of all ages, sizes and abilities."
There are ambitions as well as reservations in the aim to develop solutions usable by all, to the greatest extent possible. People with special needs will require compensatory measures, both in the short and long term, e.g. wheelchairs or hearing aids, to be able to function on equal terms with other people in society. Central to our thinking is a coherent planning process from over all, long-term planning through to the actual solutions.
The discussion in this report covers extensive spheres such as planning, architecture and product design. One may object that we try to cover too large an area within a relatively brief report. It is therefore important to emphasise that our main intention is to include more professionals and politicians in the further discussion of universal design or design for all.
Equal status, equal treatment and equal merit are notions central to universal design. Inherent in these notions is the ideal that everybody should have the same possibilities to participate in different areas of life, e.g. education, work and leisure. There is a clearly defined ambition in the ideology and practical work with universal design that: all products, buildings and surroundings shall be made to be used on equal terms by as many as possible.
The notion of equal status forces us to think in a holistic way, and to consider physical and other kinds of planning together.To make explicit the inclusive and holistic as a basis for universal design, we have extended the definition from The Center for Universal Design, where we, in addition to the design of products and environments, to the greatest extent possible, stress the composition of different products and environments.We are about to move away from a split paradigm, where different spheres have focused on part- and specialized solutions, to what we may call a holistic paradigm built on ideals of equal status and equal treatment.
The choice of solutions usable by all, without unnecessary specialized solutions or aids, could be applied in several areas
of planning. This applies to over all and long-term planning and planning within different areas. The thinking and principles
of universal design have so far hardly been applied within planning. It is therefore necessary to increase our knowledge of
what exactly excludes certain groups of the population in different areas of society, and a methodology is needed to throw
light on the consequences for different groups of the population during the whole planning process. To achieve more
universal solutions it is necessary that these groups genuinely participate throughout the whole process from an early stage.
Society today raises its expectations of environmental design. Functional requirements and demands on resources are
becoming increasingly important in architecture and building. To develop the profession of architecture in the direction
of universal design, we have to see usability for everybody as one of the factors which gives us a beneficial environment.
The principles of universal design could be regarded as one component of a quality-assurance process of functionality,
from the start of the project to the final result.
Today's design is characterised by trends which often cultivate particular ideologies or fashions. There is a development
towards an increasing number of products and more specialisation, where the groups which are the object of the design,
as well as the requirements of the product, are decided on before the design process starts.This complicates the situation.
The introduction of the principles of universal design would make it possible to change and extend the target groups,
and also change the functional requirements of product design. The sphere of product design is large and includes a vast
number of different products. We should therefore realise that there will always be products characterised by such
specialized user-areas or target groups, that they cannot be adjusted to everybody. However, products usable by as
many as possible acquire a new dimension; a smaller number of products will be needed, and this may signify an increase
in the marketshares for designers and producers.
Despite this positive development, we can still observe many defects and poor solutions. Lack of knowledge or money still result in poor accessibility.This also includes measures required by, e.g. the Building Regulations. Some of the measures are carried out inadequately and, as a result, with a lower degree of functionality than necessary. This is related to the knowledge and competence of planners, architects and builders, but it is also related to an understanding of equal merit and possibilities of participation for everybody.
We experience solutions which are exclusive and stigmatizing because people with disabilities have to use separate entrances and are limited to particular seats in trains, cinemas or sports arenas. There seems to be an ambition to achieve a technical accessibility, but less focus is placed on including everybody. The solutions of service dwellings for specific groups of elderly and disabled people may, by their position, design and the use of materials, signal a ghetto consisting of people in need of care (Jørgensen 1991).
There is no doubt, that accessibility for people with physical disablilities has been better taken care of, so far, than the considerations of other groups of disabled people.There are several reasons for this. The needs of people with physical disabilities, wheelchair-users in particular, are easy to see. One step may prevent an individual from entering a building. Research work has been carried out for a long time in this area, there are more concrete proposals for solutions and the activity of information has been higher than in other areas. People with physical disabilities constitute, by far, the largest group of disabled persons. This group also includes people with heart- and lung-conditions, who have problems with stairs and steep slopes. A great deal remains to be done before physical accessibility has been sufficiently developed for people with physical disabilities, in addition to a series of challenges as regards the reduction of barriers in the physical environment for people with limited sight and hearing, people with environmental handicaps (asthma\allergies) or for people with learning disabilities. There are also conflicts that need to be solved between the different considerations. The low level pavement kerb has been the classical problem and conflict between blind people and wheelchair users, but this is about to be solved.
The considerations for disabled people are central to the ambition of universal design. These considerations should also, however, be seen in relation to the needs and wishes of the rest of the population, whether they are children, elderly, women or men, or people of different ethnical backgrounds and traditions. In these areas, there may also be different interests and conflicts in the attempt to apply, to as great extent as possible, a universal design in buildings, outdoor areas and products. The different needs of disabled people are central, but not sufficient when we are to plan and design for the whole population.
More effort in research and development is necessary to understand the various needs and wishes of the population and
to develop this into new solutions.
There is something paradoxical in this situation.
In Norway and other Western-European countries, we estimate that 19% of the population are people with disabilities, having permanent problems relating to essential areas of life. Disability is clearly related to age, 70% of all disabled are over 45 years (Barth 1987).There will be an increase in the number of disabled between now and the year 2005, due to the increase in the share of old people in relation to the population as a whole. A series of investigations show that permanent disability has an effect on the possibilities for education, work and social participation. In addition, there are people with minor difficulties related to movement, sight or hearing, due to the natural process of aging, but who do not appear in statistics as being disabled. Most people are temporarily disabled during their lifetime due to illness or injury.
Accessible buildings, environments and means of communication do not only serve those with different and various degrees of disability. They also facilitate everyday life for e.g. parents with small children, be it elevators in buildings or low floor buses. Buildings and environments where it is easy to find ones bearings, serve, not only persons with physical or cognitive disabilities, but it is something everybody may benefit from. Explicit and logical signboards could serve as an example. This is also of use to people who do not understand the local language. The needs of people with disabilities make several considerations of accessibility more explicit. Heavily polluted air leads to immediate illness among people with asthma, but in the long run may also damage other people's health.
Despite the fact that accessibility is a positive aspect for a large part of the population, it is still looked upon as a field of specialized care. The sociologist Yngvar Løchen is interested in the word "they" in the article "Weak, marginalised and without power". Løchen says: "The personal pronoun they marks and strengthens the dissociation of disabled persons, and this dissociation indicates that people with disabilities are exposed to an alienating process of being categorised. Through this process disabled people are marked as a group different from others, consisting of similar human beings without individual features. This dissociated group is then being characterized by particular properties, something which is common when we speak of the others - irrespective of whom this category consists of " (Løchen 1996). These, both conscious and unconscious psychological processes, are angled, by the philosopher Harald Ofstad, towards a discussion on "our contempt of weakness", something he believes to be deeply rooted in our Western culture (Ofstad 1979). The social scientist Cristoffer Lasch has a third approach towards this discussion in his book "The Narcissistic Culture" where he claims that, people in Western society become more and more narcissistic (self-centered) and that a significant feature of the narcissistic individual is the fear of getting old (Lasch 1979).
Our conscious and more unconscious reflections in this area are mirrored by the use of the word elderly and disabled. Elderly people who are dependant on a walking frame, will sometimes dispute the fact that they are disabled. Young disabled persons also reject being mentioned together with elderly people. There are good reasons for these protests, because young and old are often put into the same service system. However, our general tendency not to accept getting old also exists as an idea among people with disabilities.
In the new slogan of "planning for our future selves", there is, in many ways, a new comprehension that the consideration
of disabled people in planning does not only imply the others, but is actually a more realistic understanding of the entirety
of our lives. This signifies a comprehension rather than a displacement of the fact that we are all getting old and thereby
It is important to emphasize that equal status and equal merit are not identical. If we only talk about equal status, the result may be that the requirements are laid down by others than the people concerned. This could imply that men lay down the conditions of equal status for women, or that people without disabilities define the aims of equal status for disabled people.
The subordinate clause in the definition, to the greatest extent possible, opens up for a discussion about several aspects of the ideal of equal status. An individual may be dependent on a special solution to be on equal status with others in, e.g. education or at work. Some extencive disabled persons might, for a long period of time, be dependent on specialized means of transport to manage their education or work situation. One disabled person might be dependent on specialized or compensatory measures to have an equal status in working life. If one is left with using general measures only, e.g. if only public transport was available, the aims of equal status related to work , education or leisure could be damaged.
Disability, in relation to the physical environment and products, is often defined as a disparity between an individual's
ability to function and the demands of the surroundings. This incongruity, or gap, may be reduced or conquered through
a general and universal design of products, buildings and environments, and in addition, through specialized and
compensatory measures and adaption, if necessary. The specialized solutions, e.g. hearing aids or wheelchairs,
compensate for individual functional reductions and contribute to the individual's functional ability. The use of specialized
aids puts a demand on the design of environments and products, to make equal status and participation possible.
The design of environments and products on the basis of "the average human being" will increase the need for special
measures, and make the solutions generally more expensive and more complicated, e.g. the use of lifting-platforms and
package-openers. Universal design is based on the fact that people have different abilities, and this should be reflected
in both the planning process and in the ultimate solutions. In the ideal of universal design there is a clear ambition that all
products, buildings and environments should, with time, develop in such a manner that they are usable on equal
conditions, by as many as possible.
By universal design the gap may be reduced between the person's abilities and the demands of the
The connections between the different physical components could profitably be a more explicit part of the definition of universal design. We therefore propose the following addition at the beginning of the definition developed by The Center for Universal Design:
"Universal design is the design and composition of different products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design".
One should also discuss, if the definition could be made more obvious as regards equal status; the fact that physical
solutions should imply equal terms and possibilities for all. To eliminate unnecessary use of technical aids should perhaps
also be a part of the definition.
Universal planning and design based on the principle of equal status puts greater demands on inter- professionalism,
than before. Professionals in e.g. town planning, architecture and landscape and product designers should acquire a
wider understanding of the relation of which their design and products form a part. If the aim is equal opportunities for
everybody, all products should be seen as part of a chain, and, as we know, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
The equal and inclusive aims may seem new to many of those who are engaged in physical planning and design.
Quite often, the subject itself, and the traditions related to it, are the only frame of reference when proposals for solutions
are worked out. This leads, in many cases, to solutions far from universal design. It is necessary that the new inclusive
perspectives become part of the education for everyone who is going to work with physical adaption and accessibility,
and the need for inter-professionalism should be illuminated by concrete examples and subjects. Methods of
user-participation is a part of this knowledge (Aslaksen 1995).
There are still many challenges which have not been solved in the area of accessibility, either because of lack of knowledge about possible solutions, or due to different priorities. At the same time, we see an increasingly clear focus on achieving more coherent solutions based on the perspective of equal status and equal treatment.
In the USA, in the 1990's, a strong focus, based on the ADA - legislation was put on universal design (Lindberg 1996). In The Americans with Disability Act from 1990, where equal status and equal treatment, as well as prohibition against the discrimination of disabled persons are mandatory, access to public buildings, e.g. educational buildings, workplaces and restaurants are put into a larger social context.The legislation requires, not only public buildings without barriers, but also that the work and services performed in the buildings should be adapted both to the employees and the public. This implies developing different tools usable by all, including persons with disabilities. This applies to e.g. IT - technology, office equipment and tele-communications. Equal treatment implies that the various services should be accessible in the same way as buildings or premises. This, for instance, would imply that an individual with reduced sight may have the menu read, and that the waiter describes how the food is arranged on the plate. The same way of holistic thinking, as well as thinking in terms of equal status, is also related to other types of private and public services, among other things, public transport.
The ADA-legislation is chracterised by what we may call a notion of fair play. This implies that you, as a customer, employee or student, should have the same rights as everybody else. It is possible, that we, in Scandinavia, are more inclined to make people into clients than is the case in USA.
The philosopher Thomas Kuhn says that a new paradigm must preserve a major part of the ability of solving problems that the old paradigm had, and, in addition, open up for new, and so far unsolved problems (Kuhn 1962). The ideal of equal status has brought forward a more consistent way of holistic thinking and the creation of organisationally inclusive solutions. This is the core of the changing paradigm. We seem to be moving from a reductionist or split paradigm, where the focus has been on part - and specialized solutions and practice within different professions, to what we may call a more holistic model or paradigm.
More holistic and inclusive solutions for different groups of the population depend, to a large degree, on the welfare
policy and the priorities made by the central and local authorities. Professionals involved in physical planning and design
cannot avoid involving themselves in the development of these policies, if they are going to work towards a more
universal design of environments and products.
(Left) The entrance to, among other things, a hotel and offices is usable for one part of the population; it is,
however, complicated for a series of user groups, despite the fact that some functional details have been included.
Handrails have been installed, and the steps have been marked by a contrasting colour. The solution excludes, however,
among others, wheelchair users, and separates them from other users. An attempt to compensate for this limitation is
made by referring this user group to a subsidiary entrance at the other side of the building.
A picture from Vika Atrium in Oslo.
(Right) The Olav Building Complex in Trondheim contains a concert hall and a conference centre. The entrance is one of two main entrances. The solution is weak on several points in relation to providing good functional conditions for all user groups. A ramp is provided for wheelchair users at the outskirts of the entrance and is concealed, at the left of the picture. To conceal solutions which cater for the needs of one user group, does, however, not comply with universal design.
Architects: The Group of Architects for the Mellager District
A major part of the professions involved in the design of the physical environment has all users as an ideal aim for their work. The objects clause of the Norwegian Planning and Building Act 1985, is an example of this:
(section)2 The aim "Through planning and specific requirements for each individual building project the regulations must ensure that area usage and buildings are to the best possible advantage for the individual and society. Special considerations should be made to ensure that children have the best possible environment in which to grow up".
In reality, there is a gap between the ideal of to the best possible advantage for the individual and society and the actual solutions. Many people experience difficulties in using the outdoor environment as well as buildings. It is also a general feature that many of the plans made by the local authorities, e.g. in zoning and town planning, do not further or adhere to the aim of adaption for the individual, implying every individual in society. Disabled people are one of the groups not taken into account.
Universal design emphasises that the demands of all users are to be valued on equal terms. If some considerations have to be excluded, the choice should be made consciously and on a firmly argued basis.
This is an ambitious objective which demands detailed knowledge of subject areas, solutions and consequences of the
choices made. A series of new challenges are implied to solve contradictory demands, to make sure that all accessible
possibilities are exploited to include the demands of the users. Considerations must be given to a larger variety of user
qualifications such as mobility, sight, hearing, understanding and allergy. The solutions should function equally well for
those with average abilities as for people with disabilities. In addition to disabled persons, children should be included
among the users who have needs beyond average. Many functional demands are the same for children, elderly persons
with reduced functional abilities and persons with disabilities.
In addition to these principles, considerations must be given to a whole series of other conditions in the process of planning and development. These may include social considerations, economy, aesthetic design, sustainable development, cultural qualities etc.
Work is progressing in several countries to develop tools which can help improve standards in each of these areas and the collective result, when all or several factors are seen in context.
In Norway, we have a reasonably extensive amount of instructive material when it comes to planning for different user groups. This refers to e.g. children, elderly and disabled people. Standards, detailed references and norms exist to guide the practical design. These are of vital importance to the development of good solutions which include all users in a holistic perspective. The holistic perspective, as described in universal design, is, however, not developed systematically and consistently in this material. This is necessary, if the theory of universal design is to be put into practice.
Several professions influence the design of environments and products. Of particular importance is over all and long term planning, land use, engineering, architecture and product design, because they have a major influence on the individual parts of the environment and the relationships between them. In addition, ergonomics is a profession which systematically tries to adjust the functional requirements of the environment to human needs.
We shall continue to take a closer look at how universal design relates to planning, architecture and product design,
to how universal design may be illustrated and the consequences of it's inclusion into the various professions.
Low floor buses with entrance from bus stops with high level platforms to the right are
more in line with universal design because:
* Principle 1 . The design is useful and marketable to any group of users.
* Principle 2. The design is flexible in use (it facilitates the user s accuracy and precision).
* Principle a. The design is simple and intuitive in use (arranging information consistent with its importance).
* Principle s. The design has a tolerance for error (it minimises hazards and the adverse
consequences of accidental or unintended actons like falling or taking a false step).
* Principle 6. The design demands a low physical effort.
* Principle 7. The design provides adequate space for the use of assistive devices.
Both illustrations are from Oslo, Norway.
The design of products, as well as of services, and measures to implement these, demand planning. There is a distinction between planning and the design of products which may be illustrated by a couple of examples:
* Similarly, the development and design of low floor buses is not planning. The development of transport plans, however, with objectives, subsidies etc. necessary to the employment of low floor buses, is a part of planning.
In town planning, fire and sanitary considerations has dominated until this century. The starting point of planning was a common action to meet the most basic needs which society found it appropriate to meet. Later, economic planning is added. This mainly refers to the period after the Second World War. During the last 20-30 years, planning has been applied to an increasing number of new sectors. These are the health, culture, social and school sector and others. Planning is being applied to an increasing number of areas, and the content of planning has changed from being equated with town planning to include several other areas of society. The three main elements of planning, physical, economic and social planning have developed in the above mentioned order.
In Norway, there has been a similar development in a much shorter period of time in municipal planning. In 1960's, it had a physical orientation, with a land use map as one of the most important products. Later, the content also includes an economic plan, and today, various types of social planning are emphasised more and more.
Another feature of the development is the ambition of a holistic way of thinking. As an increasing number of sectors are included in planning, the question is raised as to the relation between the different sectors in long term, over all planning. Some of the municipal master plans have a clear ambition to make these relations visible.
The distribution of planning into an increasing number of areas are described in the following way by Amdam and
Veggeland in " Theories on Planning" (Amdam/Veggeland 1991):
The modern Western societies are not planned societies. But they could be characterised as planning societies........ The development of planning societies has been a, more or less, continuing process since the 1930's, distinguished by planning at all administrative levels, and by an increasing number of social sectors which have been subjected to public planning decision making. In earlier periods, forms of work we now would describe as planning, were also taking place. It was however, a part of limited and technically characterized areas like town planning and from military, fire and sanitary considerations and the planning of roads and railways based on transport needs and technical economic considerations etc. The new implications are that planning has developed into a general phenomenon in society, both in public and private enterprises.
The notion of planning has been extended to imply any kind of socially aimed activities, from zoning to economic, political
and sociocultural life. In line with current understanding, planning is not only a project, but also a process, which implies as
a consequence, that planning becomes a radical activity in society.
There has been an increasing focus on the conditions of people with disabilities, and accessibility now plays a more central role in planning. This happens, however, often in sector related plans and not as an integrated part of over all and long term planning. In some of the local authorities, which have accomplished a considerable amount in this area, the ambition has, however, been that these considerations, after some time, should be taken care of within the general planning system.
In Norway in 1989, national guidelines for strengthening the interests of children and youth in planning were approved. This is an example that, centrally, one acknowledges the fact that planning does not automatically cater for all groups, and that a special focus is necessary on certain groups and interests.
Accordingly, women, elderly people and marginal groups have been focused on in planning, where the main objective is
an equalisation of living conditions. A characteristic feature is however, that no collective survey of different groups of the
population is shown. The groups are singled out one by one. Even if this is a positive tendency as regards universal design,
we are still far from a complete survey of how the different groups of the population are affected by planning measures.
The Ideology of Garden Cities
The idea of the garden cites was introduced by Ebenezer Howard, a theorist on city development, around1900.
The ideas were a response to the crowded and unhygienic housing of the working class at the time.
The thoughts behind the garden cities were based on the idea of sound and beneficial housing conditions.
The houses were lowrise and in areas with small parks and fresh air.The principles were employed in the development
of several working class housing areas in England. Even if Howard's theories of the garden city did not seem to work
out in a wider planning context, the deas have been significant in the development of dormitory towns.
The ideology of garden cities is a true historical example of the exploitation of physical planning and design in the improvement of important social and medical challenges.
The illustrations are from Ullevål Hageby (Ullevål Garden City) in Oslo, Norway, showing Damtorget (The Pond Square) and a street with houses. Ullevål Hageby was built from 1915 to 1922. The architects were Hals, Jensen, Morgenstiere and Eide.
To a certain extent, the requirements of design for different groups are part of planning. Demands of accessibility for disabled people are, for example, put on the design of public buildings and road construction. The individual sectors and departments do not seem to recognise, however, that consideration of the whole population is part of their responsibility. For example, the Transport Authorities does not fully accept the responsibility of transportation for everybody, including groups of disabled people. It is looked upon as a responsibility for the Social Services. The main thought behind universal design is not fully catered for, as long as the perspective of equal status is not emphasised. The ambition of usability by different groups is taken care of , but often by offering specialized solutions. When it comes to detailed planning, there is a need to emphasise the principle of equal status, to a larger extent.
Another question is, if equitable use is relevant in relation to a more general development plan, as for example the Municipal Land Use Plan. There is a widely held opinion that, for instance, accessibility for disabled people is something that the planning departments and the design teams should be responsible for, and this is almost uninfluenced, by over all strategic planning.
According to our estimations, this opinion is incorrect. In land use planning as well as in transport planning, many
conditions are implied that would influence unequally the usability by different groups of the population. For example:
* Areas based on mobility by car are less usable by people who do not use a car. This would include children, adults without a car, and persons with disabilities etc.
* The choice of solutions in public transport influences to what extent this system can be used by different groups of the population. Vehicles usable by everybody should be employed, everybody should be able to understand the information of services and timetables. Distance to stops and access design should not exclude any user group.
* General zoning and transport policies, and the relation between them, influence the level of pollution. This is a general health and environmental problem, but it is of particular importance to people with asthma. Solutions leading to large concentrations of pollution would exclude people with asthma from participating in society.
Examples of planning in the "new sectors" are health and social plans, culture plans, plans for the adolescent environment and education etc. Many of the plans consist of a physical and economic part, and one part dealing with the design of services within each sector.
In our opinion, it would also be relevant to include the main principles of universal design in these areas. By this we imply that the plans should be based on the acknowledgement that the population consists of many different individuals with different needs and demands. Furthermore, the products and services which are the result of the plan, should be usable by the different groups. The services should also be designed and located to be used by everybody. In the same way that demands are put on the design of physical products based on the ambition of universal design, similar demands should be put on the design and location of services. The demand for equitable use, flexibility, simple and intuitive use and perceptible information could, in principle, also be applied to services.
To achieve this, we believe an effort is demanded in four areas:
* A methodology to cater for the consideration of different groups, and to analyse the consequences for each group.
* Aims which may be of functional use in the different types of plans.
* Participation from different groups of the population which are affected by the planning.
* How large a section of the population is able to travel by an ordinary bus, and how many more by a low floor bus?
* How large a section of the population understands the transport companies' ticket machines?
* How large a section of the population is able to use the different support systems to which they are entitled?
Today, we usually measure the consequences in relation to aims of reductions in noise level, air pollution, economic equalisation between different regions etc. In some analyses, the way the different consequences are divided between the different groups affected (children, road-users etc.) is described. Some groups may get the advantages and some the disadvantages. It would be possible to improve this with a sufficient knowledge about the different groups' functional ability. This may be illustrated by a few examples:
1. Consequences of pollution We imagine a developmental measure which will entail a certain level of pollution, which can be estimated in advance. A traditional way of referring to these consequences may be as follows: "The measure will entail a level of pollution (........). This is an increase compared with today's level, but is below the recommended limits". If we include the consequences for different groups of the population, the conclusion may be complemented as follows: "The level of pollution may, however, be too high for people with asthma to stay in the area. The measure may therefore lead to the fact that 5% of the population may not be able to use the area".
2. Location of housing
We imagine a quite normal approach in Norwegian local authorities: There is a choice between locating a housing area on
flat, cultivated land near the municipal centre (alternative 1) and locating a housing area in a steep mountaineous area at a
distance from the centre (alternative 2). There are at least three different consequences which may be described:
a. Developmental economy as opposed to protection of cultivated land
b. Alternative 2 gives an increase in transport
c. Alternative 1 may be used by a larger section of the population than alternative 2.
Normally, point a would be included, point b might be included, point c, however, would not have been illuminated. Point c must, however, also be solved, if universal design is going to be a part of the consequential evaluation.
Two housing areas, one in steep terrain at a distance from the city centre.
The other housing area is inside the main city centre. Dwellings as part of small housing areas in steep terrrain ,
at a distance from the centre, lead to a series of problems for people without cars, and who are not in good shape.
There are seldom services (shops, schools etc.) in the areas. There is a lack of public transport due to an insufficient
number of users, and communication within the area is strenuous. The possibilities of achieving universal design are
greater in densely built-up areas, where public transport is established and the walking distance to services is short.
The housing area shown at the bottom is from a rehabilitation area in the centre of Oslo; the flats have lifespan standard.
To the left: Housing area in Bergen, Norway.
To the right: Dwellings in rehabilitation area in down town Oslo, Norway.
This aim must be made functional in relation to different types of plans. We have seen examples where aims to consider
people with disabilities are included in the chapter describing the aims, and have disappeared later on in the same
document. The aims have thereby not been made functional in relation to the evaluation of different solutions.
There are two reasons why participation is important in taking care of the regard for universal design:
* Participation ensures that consideration for various groups of the population is developed at an early stage. When consideration of different groups is a part of the planning process only at a late stage, there is an increase in the probability of having to choose additional or compensatory specialized solutions, rather than solutions usable by all. Participation at an early stage increases the possibility of achieving a universal design.
To achieve participation according to the intentions of universal design, the planning process itself must be inclusive, it should reflect the ambitions of universal design. This implies that different groups of the population which are affected, must be invited to participate. The meeting rooms should be usable by all, the information received and understood by everybody. Irrespective of skills or professional background, everybody should be able to contribute to the work (Aslaksen1995).
To achieve a beneficial participation process, it is necessary for the plans to have a content, which the different groups can associate themselves with. An awareness that the population consists of different groups must be present in all levels of planning and during all phases of the planning process. The way we present the plans and the basis of decisions, as described earlier, are not only important for the decision makers, they are also important to enable a good planning process.
The way over all and long term planning creates a framework for the later stages of planning, must be identified. Usability
by all seems to be regarded as a task for those who make the detailed solutions, and there is little consciousness as to
how one, through over all and long term planning can lay down the conditions as to what degree usability by all may be
achieved. A higher degree of consciousness about this will be of significance both to planning itself, as well as to those
invited to participate and how this is carried out.
«Old Oslo», a central part of the city, demonstrates a well planned and coherent structure of measures that provide good accessibility for all. The area has a developed town centre with all modern conveniences. There are people with different ethnical backgrounds, and there are some areas consisting of medieval buildings.
The solutions of pathways are coherently and well executed. The township has a large proportion of lifespan dwellings. Playgrounds, kindergartens, schools, shops and public buildings have been repaired to give accessibilty and improved user conditions for everybody. The township is serviced by special minibus services, low floor buses and underground service with good accessibility.
* The three foundation stones of architecture are: durability, suitability and beauty. (Vitruvius, 300 B.C.)
* Universal design is the design and combination of different products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design. (The Center for Universal Design, with our addition, see chapter 1, for the whole definition)
Both architecture and universal design deal with finding the best possible solutions based on practical needs and technical
and economical possibilities. Architecture also emphasises factors of current spiritual needs and aesthetics. The definition
of universal design sets no criteria for aesthetical design and spiritual needs. On the other hand, it requires that the design
is usable by all people. There is no contradiction between these definitions and areas; all people is the aim. This is a
challenge for architects and designers. The fact that, aesthetics and current trends should be considered as well as
functionality, makes it possible to move away from specialized solutions, not only in use, but also within the expression
of the form.
Architecture has developed according to the prevailing spirit of the time, tradition, position of the center of power, the
power of the church and religion, and to what kinds of buildings were mostly needed during the changing conditions.
Even if Vitruvius as early as 300 B.C. talked about suitability as one of the foundation stones of architecture, - and this
has been one of the elements of architecture - architects and clients have often limited the target groups. The guiding
element has not been that buildings should have equal functionality and usability by all people. In the styles of earlier times,
the craftsmanship, the details of form, the aesthetical expression and tradition were most important.
The Technical Revolution (1850-): The technical revolution resulted in new materials and possibilities, and the development of architecture started to take a new direction. The scientific way of thinking and the discoveries which followed, led to experimental research, particularly in construction.There was an "aesthetic of engineers", where construction and technical and industrial development and new materials like steel and glass governed design.
Functionalism (1920-1940): As a style, functionalism is characterized as a period ending in the 1930's, but spiritually, it indicates a turning point in the history of architecture. The technical revolution and the new materials and methods of production result in new ways of thinking. The old problem with a new style is solved in a sensational way; one should not look for any style at all. The character of the period and its expression would develop according to the building's appearance as an adequate product where all technical and user considerations have been taken care of, and which is relieved of all bungled details. The construction should be simple, logical and consistent with the materials and the use, both in the design of furniture and buildings. Everything should have its form according to the use and the material.
Functionalism is, in many ways, the style which relates most closely to universal design. The demand of functionality is important in both movements. While functionalism is a movement with a clear ideology of cultivating an aesthetic which removes all unnecessary details and demands pure lines where the design is given by the material and its use, and puts functions and people into standardised needs and solutions, universal design is a method as well as a tool which does not put any demands on aesthetics, but only to the functional demands which are to be achieved.
Functionalism maintained that the use and the materials should determine the design; however, no demands were made as
to usability of all "products" by all people, including people with disabilities. The architects decided and defined the "use"
and the "users" themselves.
The main notion of functionalism was that the form should reflect the practical functions. The
architecture should develop according to the technical developments in other areas like aircrafts
and cars, and should be rational, simple and inexpensive. A design for the general population
was to be created, with the development of housing and plain interior decorations.
Villa in Oslo, Architect Arne Korsmo 1937.
Society today makes ever higher demands on the design of our environment. Functional and material demands are increasingly more important in today's architecture and building culture. Today's planning processes are characterized by: analysis of consequences and needs, infrastructure, efficient construction, conscious use of materials and resources during the building process, user demands, efficient use of the building, fire regulations, flexibility, economy and adaption to and consideration of existing buildings and environments. Laws and regulations in Norway require fire protection, parking - and entrance facilities, indoor climate/ventilation, physical design and, to a certain point, usability by all users.
The situation within the building trade is characterised by increasing competition, stricter deadlines and that one wants increasingly "more for the same amount of money". Economy is often used as an argument to give exemptions, and for priorities that often are at the expense of, for one thing, accessibility by everybody.
At the same time, the new Norwegian building regulations put increasing demands on the qualification of the planners.
One has to document internal quality assurance systems, the responsibility is related more directly to the profession and
there is a possibility for sanctions and "black listing".
These solutions are equal in principle, and one is as good as the other considering the technical
estimation of accessibility. Both solutions are worked over thoroughly, and durable, good quality materials have been
chosen. The solution at the bottom is more in line with universal design, because it does not stigmatise physically disabled
persons. The entrance without steps is designed as a walking-/driving path, and does not give the impression of being a
specialised solution for the physically disabled. The walking path is equal on both sides.
To the left: A chemist's shop in Middelfart, Denmark.
To the right: The Courthouse in Oslo, Norway. Østgaard Architectual Office, 1994
The principles of universal design may be used to:
Universal design, i.e. usability by all people, should be seen as one of the factors which is to create this totality to give us good environments. The principles of universal design could be regarded as a link in a quality assurance process, which follows the product or project from the beginning of the planning process to the final result.
The design of our environment is no longer only a question of creating beautiful environments and buildings and good
architecture; it also implies, more and more, to satisfy demands of the qualities which should be inherent in the finished
project. Good projects consist of several elements, where aesthetics is only one of these. All factors should intermingle
and form a totality which together create good environments, architecture and design. Universal design or usability by all
people should become a natural and integrated part of architecture.
The lifespan dwelling is based on directions in line with the principles of universal design. The lifespan dwelling can be adjusted to different types of architecture and building, and may be combined with other important social aims. This detached house has a lifespan standard and has been made of materials accommodating the needs of people with allergies. The exploitation of energy into heating has been well adjusted, and proper ventilation has been considered to give a good indoor climate.
Introducing universal design could imply certain situations of conflict. This could be a feeling of reduced artistic freedom, opposition against the introduction of more demands and a fear of standardised arcitectural solutions. Even if architecture today is continually developing, it is tied up in traditions and earlier trends. A change in attitude among architects is needed, as they have a tendency towards not giving priority to this field. They believe that accessibility for all groups implies limitations rather than challenges. As regards the fear of reduced artistic freedom, as well as the ties to earlier traditions, one should look at this as a challenge and try to find alternative solutions which are usable by all people. One good example of this is the use of steps, which have been an important element in architecture for centuries. If one develops an additional alternative, and makes it an integrated part of the architectural expression, with a central position and usable by all, the use of steps may be accepted.
1. The building should be of equitable use and accessible for everybody.
The physical design of the building/project should give all user groups equal possibilities to move about easily and safely and to use all parts of the building/project. Specialized solutions for particular user groups should be avoided, the normal solutions should be usable by all.The main access, entrance and the building's internal circulation system should be designed to allow all groups to use the ordinary solution. If this is not possible, an alternative without steps should be integrated as an equal part of the normal solutions.
2. The building and its design should be easy to understand and to use by all people.
Ordinary solutions which cater for all groups make use simpler. Complexity and specialized solutions should be avoided. The main access and entrance should be easy to find and to walk about, and should be usable by all. When the entrance is an alternative but equal solution, it should be clearly marked to avoid confusion and unnecessary use of effort. Lifts, staircases, toilets, information etc. should be easy to find and in a logical position. Patterns of movement inside the building/project should be natural and logical. Alternatives and possibilities should be clearly marked. Signs should be made of simple, clear and well known symbols and, in important buildings, also with tactile signs and speech. The use of contrasting materials, colours etc. would be beneficial.
3. The design of the building should demand low physical effort, and be used efficiently and with a minimum of fatigue.
Entrance and use of the building/project should be designed for use by all user groups, which implies that we do not choose solutions demanding full mobility, great strength and sizes which are only adjusted to walking/standing persons and to quick pace. Examples of this would be gentle climbing conditions, ramps with gentle slopes, entrances without steps, handrails adjusted to both walking and sitting, doors which are easy to open or automatic door openers. A possibility of automatic doors with reduced speed, door handles with a large and simple grip, lifts with automatic doors and well sized compartments, clear signs and heights adjusted to standing and sitting.
4. The whole building/project should be designed for use by all people, regardless of users' body size, posture or mobility.
All parts of the building/project should be dimensioned for use by all groups. This could imply entrance, rooms and areas in different parts of the building, doors, corridors, lifts, toilets, barriers, offices, call boxes, telephone slots etc.
5. The building's use of materials and the indoor climate should not lead to uncomfortable conditions.
Use materials which do not damage the environment and which may be used by everybody.Avoid using materials which could give allergic reactions, i.e. avoid materials which produce waste gas. Avoid carpets, materials and elements which collect dust. Clean the building/project during construction and before it is put to use. Plans for efficient possibilities of cleaning the building\project should be made. Correctly dimensioned ventilation and organised and well qualified supervision of the system of ventilation.
The housing area to the right consists of dwellings with a lifespan standard and is more in line with universal design
* Design: There is no design with a unilateral content and aim. Design has one common denominator: objects which are formed and created by human beings. Objects in a wide sense, which are conceived, made and obtained by human beings and constitute their" artificial surroundings/environment. The form is far from innocent; an expression of a functional side, but also an aesthetical side, and valued by virtue of communicating something. This duality carries the embryo of the main discussion in design, - which of these sides is to be given priority. (Aubry/Vavik 1992)
* Universal design is the design and combination of different products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaption or specialized design. (The Center for Universal Design, with our addition, see Introduction,chapter 1 and Appendix)
The content of design is strongly related to various stages of development in industrial society. The result is a discipline which sometimes is orientated towards the purely technical aspect, other times towards the purely aesthetical or user aspects. The designer is therefore always in a situation of choice - often between idealism or artistic display or a pragmatism which requires the use of a "healthy rustic sense".
If one takes a look at Eames' definition, where the basis is a way of putting together components with the intention of
achieving the best solution to a given problem, the definition of universal design is closely connected. Universal design
demands, in addition, to work towards the best solution for all people. Here, both sides of the discussion in design are
addressed; the aesthetical and the functional side. To find a balance between these two elements, where both could
interact, should be the aim and challenge of the product design of the future.
The origin of design has traditionally been dated back to the Victorian times in England. The main sources came into being
simultaneously with serial production. The idea of uniting art and industry was highly in demand within the leading art
movements already in the beginning of the last century.
The Italians have influenced the development of product design since the 30's, and an extensive design policy (presentation of enterprises/image) governed both the development of products, architecture and graphical symbols.
In 1949 an interdisciplinary group of psychologists, architects and engineers, called the Ergonomics Research Society was formed. The word ergonomics was chosen as a name for the activity which came into being. The profession started developing in the USA during the Second World War, when the military situation exploited the technique and the human being to the utmost. At the same time, man's capacity and limitations had to be taken into consideration. In Scandinavia and the northern part of central Europe the profession of ergonomics turned away from the psychological aspect which predominated in the USA. In Sweden, they have concentrated on work physiology, along with which a study of industrial design with an emphasis on ergonomics was established at Umeå University. One of Sweden's largest industrial design offices, "The Ergonomics Design Group" has its basis in the emphasis on ergonomics. In Norway the profession developed with a basis on the research of work and the health service for employees, with an emphasis on injuries due to heavy work load and physical and chemical environmental factors. The profession's entry into product development and industrial design has been slow.
The water tap to the right is more in line with universal design than the one to the left. The water tap with one grip could be used by more people and with minimal effort. It has also been given a colour which separates it from the white china and makes it more visible. In addition the tap has a security arrangement to prevent burning. Water taps with screwing arrangements were universal until the 1960¥s, but have been gradually replaced by fittings which may be operated by one grip. The fittings with a screwing arrangement now seem to get a renaissance as rustic products.
* "Natural"/Biodesign: Fundamental studies of natural systems. The relation between form and function, user value and aesthetical aspect.
* Artisan Design: The tool decides the form. The individual craftsman came forward with his/her improvements until the tool got its final and perfect design. For example, the tool of the cabinet maker.
* Anonymous Design: Objects which are not formed by a designer. The form is the result of suitability and the satisfaction of the user.
* Engineering Design: The development of industry is the result of engineers and technicians taking over the enterprise. The industry creates the need, opens up the capacity of production and determines the craftsmanship. Designers, artists and architects are the losers.
* Design and "styling": Mainly in the USA in the 1930's. The designer is only dealing with the external look of the product. This type of designer often neglects the demands of economic considerations and quality.
* Marketing Design: Often synonymous with commercial design. The market researchers are autocratic when it comes to deciding on and satisfying the needs of the people, but they also have the main responsibility for the end product. The designer decides on the external form which takes care of this need.
* Design without cost: Is best illustrated by military material. Design which purpose is only directed towards appropriate use and maintenance.
* Graphic Design: Secure visual identification between a sign or a trademark and what it is associated with.
* Environmental Design: The social responsibility of the designer leads to an increasing involvement in environmental questions. This leads to a displacement of responsibility towards social involvement and town planning. A forced growth implies a risk of the natural balance being disturbed, and destruction threatens our existence. Environmentally sound materials.
* System Design: Co-ordination of products to achieve a reduction in the existing number of products without reductions of application, or the possibility of extending the applicability of the product. Simplify, unite and eliminate, demands a new and scientific method of analysis. A link in a whole family of products.
* User friendly design: Social demands and security studies have, together with the technical development and knowledge of ergonomics lead to a new development of e.g. the work place.Use, the elements of the products and the space at one's disposal should be considered.
Traditionally, designers have not been engaged in ergonomics, with a few exceptions in the design of furniture, cutlery and china. There could be many reasons for this. Some believe that the knowledge and method of ergonomics would not improve the product, others think they know everything and regard their own work as setting a standard. In the development of products and systems, emphasis was put on technological innovations and market research, without including design and ergonomics from the start. Cooperation between designers and the profession of ergonomics in general design has just started in Norway. Professor Bengt Palmgran at The High School of Design, University of Umeå in Sweden, has put it this way:
Knowledge of ergonomics and certain sciences of behaviour, in combination with the knowledge of the industrial designer on developmental work, will become a key function in the future process of product development". (Aubry/Vavik 1992)
The principles of universal design could,- for product design as well as for architecture-, be used to:
Designers and producers should, however, accept the challenge to make products usable by all people, because it would add new qualities to the product, demand a smaller number of products and could give them a larger share of the market. Universal design seems, in addition, to be an international trend and may become a future demand within all areas of planning and design.
Razors from Gillette (to the left) and Wilkinson Sword (to the right). Due to new developments, the functionality is
increasing. Gillette gives priority to a grip which secures a firm control with the assistance of rubber ridges.
Wilkinson Sword has developed a grip where the hand is supported by the palm of the hand to achieve better
functionality for larger user groups.
The thinking related to universal design discusses the fact that large user groups are not able to use the products and the physical environment which we produce, and that it prevents them from participating in society. The other side of this is that the extension of one product's user group may give the producers an increase in the share of the market, and the authorities may reduce specialized measures.
At the same time, universal design is directly related to an ideology with key words like, equal status, equal treatment and equal merit. Other basic concepts which are emphasised more strongly in european discussions about universal design or design for all, are democratization and multiplicity. An increasing number of terms are introduced during the process in the attempt to give a good description of the direction of our work. User centered design is only one such term. The discussion about universal design is on the way and should be kept alive.
Functionality in universal design must be introduced together with several other important elements like aesthetics and economy, and it should enter into new social adaptions like sustainable development.
Universal design has come into existence as a generalization on the basis of design for disabled people. It challenges a series of subjects and spheres of production. It is important to keep all these areas of work , to investigate them continually and to seek new solutions which may vitalise the development. The interaction between theory and practice should be present in the further work on universal design.
There are several areas that can be developed further:
It is also desirable to discuss further the user areas of universal design. Are there any areas where the distinctive character of some of the user groups should be expressed more clearly in the design? One example of this may be the environment of children.
Conflicts will arise during the process of handling the different demands of the users. There is every probability that the contradictory demands at issue may seem inextricable. In order to prioritise the effort in relation to practical work, both demands which coincide and those which conflict should be clarified. It is inexpedient to spend a lot of time on what has already been clarified professionally, and this would be important to know when entering into a complicated and time consuming area. A number of people ask for proof of methodology in the shape of check-lists, work-routines, norms, standards and examples. Much emphasis should be put on this in the additional work.
Beneficial solutions cannot be achieved without participation by those who are affected. The work must continue to develop this as an integrated part of the process of planning and design.
In addition, the design of projects where it is posible to work with the approach to these problems in particular would be important. Pilot-projects, as well as projects with employed research and experiments would be of great importance. Such projects should be accomplished within each particular profession, as well as, to the greatest extent possible, inter-professional tasks.
Social economic evaluations have been on demand for a long time with the introduction and use of lifespan dwellings. Such analysis should be carried out in this as well as in other sectors. The effect of universal design as a preventive measure is of particular interest in relation to children and disabled and elderly people.
Solutions more in the line with universal design are made possible by highly specialized technology. Servolink (top) is an
infrared system of warning which can draw the staff's attention to the fact that costumers at a service station need
assistance to fill up. This is mainly a compensatory measure for people with disabilities.
New petrol pumps with automatic filling are now being tried out (right). This solution provides the same means for
The illustrations are from Oslo and Stockholm
Ch. 2 From Theory to Practice
Ministry of the Environment/Ministry of Local Government:
The Planning and Building Act, Oslo1997
Ch. 3 Planning
Andam,Jørgen/Veggeland: Theories on Planning, Oslo 1991 *
Aslaksen, Finn: User Participation in Planning, Oslo 1995 *
Ministry of Environment: Regional Planning and the Policy of Land Use,
Parliament white paper no 29, Oslo 1997 *
Ch. 4 Architecture
Brockmann, Odd: Architecture, what is it ?, Oslo 1986 *
Ch. 5 Product Design
Aubry, Didier and Vavik, Tom: Product Design, Asker 1992 *
Lie, Ivar: Rehabilitation and Habilitation, Oslo 1996 *
Ch. 6 The Future
Bringa, Olav: Fairleader- Planning of Local Environments for people with Disabilities, Oslo 1995; new edition 1998 *
* only in Norwegian ** in Swedish
It must be acknowledged that the principles of universal design in no way comprise all criteria for good design,
only universally usable design. Certainly, other factors are important, such as aesthetics, cost, safety, gender and cultural
appropriateness, and these aspects should be taken into consideration as well.
The principles of Universal Design
Version 1.1 - 12/7/95
Compiled by advocates of universal design, listed in alphabetical order: Bettye Rose Connell, Mike Jones, Ron Mace, Jim Mueller, Abir Mullick, Elaine Ostroff, Jon Sanford, Ed Steinfeld, Molly Story, and Gregg Vanderheiden
Major funding provided by: The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Department of Education
Copyright 1995, The Center for Universal Design, NC State University.