Universal Design refers to the concept of creating environments and products that are easily enjoyed by the widest variety of people. "Design for All" and "Inclusive Design" are other terms that are sometimes used for similar concepts.
One simple example would be ground-level entrances with wide doorways without stairs. This makes it easy for everyone to enter the same door whether he or she is walking, using a wheelchair or pushing a stroller.
Wide hallways, lever handles, grab bars, roll-in showers, volume controls and appropriate task lighting are just a few of many things that can be incorporated in an attractive way to benefit everyone.
Creating products, buildings and homes that are usable and accessible for all makes sense. Not only are Baby Boomers facing age-related conditions, but one out of five people has a disability. It is the only minority group that anyone can suddenly become a part of at any time. In addition, half the population has one or more chronic illnesses which often cause weakness or pain.
Modifying buildings in this manner helps not only with aging in place, but also makes it easier for injured veterans (whether they are 18 or 90) and those anywhere in between who face mobility or other challenges.
Groups of friends and family groups make decisions based on convenience for their loved ones. Businesses that only do the legal minimum (with inconvenient ramp entrances in the back of the building, for example) often miss out on income not just from from those in wheelchairs, but also from their loved ones who would visit with them. Those that provide a pleasant, convenient atmosphere benefit from repeat business and positive word of mouth.
Whether you are building a new home or business or simply remodeling/repairing an existing structure, consider incorporating as many elements of Universal Design as possible.
Click Here for a publication with ideas from the American Institute of Architects.