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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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Accessible Design vs. Universal Design


Before we explore the application of Universal Design on the playground, it is important to understand the Principles of Universal Design and the difference between Universal Design and Accessible Design.

Accessible Design describes a site, building, facility, or portion thereof that complies with the minimum accessibility standards as set forth under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Architectural Barriers Act or local building code. Accessible Design has the distinct purpose of meeting the environmental and communication needs of the functional limitations of people with disabilities. Accessible design aims at minimum requirements to achieve usability.

Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design (Center for Universal Design, 1997). The term Universal Design was first coined by architect and advocate Ron Mace, who was the Director of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. While Accessible Design is focused on the needs of people with disabilities, Universal Design considers the wide spectrum of human abilities. It aims to exceed minimum standards to meet the needs of the greatest number of people.

The Principles of Universal Design were developed by a consortium of universal design researchers and practitioners. The seven principles and their respective guidelines are presented in the offset text box. The discussion that follows gives examples of the application of the Principles of Universal Design to the public playground environment.


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