Many ideas out there regarding universal design focus just on the design of the environment. While that’s a great first step, one of the main points often left out of the equation is the person, or various people that may use a specific space.
Bringing function into the process of universal design.
As an occupational therapist I work hard to assess how people are able to perform their daily activities in their home environment. This could be from basic tasks of bathing, dressing, and using the bathroom, to other activities such as cleaning, making a meal, and caring for children. The reality is that every person does these tasks differently whether they’re short or tall, seated or standing, or have a specific health condition that requires them to adapt the task or perform it in an alternate way.
I like to look at these three things in depth to make sure the environment is designed to meet the needs of my clients.
Good Function: some overlap between person, design, and activity
1) Person – who they are, what are their strengths, limitations, health conditions, abilities, likes, and dislikes.
2) Activity – what tasks they need and want to do inside/outside their home, how they do tasks and if they need help, plus how satisfied they are with their performance.
3) Design – what parts of the environment 1) work well to increase function in the space, or 2) are a barrier to the person completing tasks effectively.
By taking all these things into account and blending them together I am able to recommend a safe, comfortable, and welcoming design that meets the needs of not only the client, but any other family or friends that may live in or visit their home.
If we just look at characteristics of the design of the environment we miss the main point of design how the person moves and lives in the environment. Why? Because not everyone moves and does tasks the same way.
By blending in the information about a person, the design of the space, and the activities performed in the space, a team of professionals* are able to work together to make sure the final product is just what the client needs.
*Collaboration between those in the health sciences profession as well as those in the building/remodeling/design professions is essential in the process of implementing universal design into a home. The National Association of Home Builders did a survey on the collaboration of these professionals. Check it out here.