Public life shouldn’t be something that’s reserved exclusively for the healthy, abled or young. Everyone needs to navigate the environment that they live indifferently, and we all have different challenges and abilities to consider as we age. There’s a huge global population of people with auditory, physical, and visual disabilities to consider, as well as neurodevelopmental disorders. If we don’t begin to apply more universal design principles in our environments, these people could face unnecessary challenges.
- One billion people (15% of the world) experience some kind of disability
- The global population of people over the age of 65 is expected to double by 2050, totaling around 1.6 billion.
- The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 percent of the global population, or 75 million people, needs a wheelchair.
- Cognitive disorders like dementia affect around 44 million people.
- Around 70 million people are autistic and overwhelmed by visual stimulation or the acoustic environment.
- Around 1.3 billion people worldwide have a kind of visual disability which causes problems with poorly lit places and low vision
- 466 million people have a hearing disability worldwide, a number expected to almost double by 2050.
Universal landscape design and planning helps to ensure that people with disabilities can better interact with the world around them. These principles, which are linked to the Center for Universal Design Principles, guide the design and planning of all public spaces, regardless of their intended audience.
The principles include:
- Participatory: All designers should design with people who have disabilities in mind. Disabled landscape architects can bring extra unique experience and understanding of a project to help with creating more accessible environments.
- Comfortable: People everywhere should feel safe and comfortable, as well as knowing that they belong in that area. With universal design, everyone can feel a sense of belonging.
- Accessible: All public spaces should be available to access by everyone, no matter what their mental, cognitive, or physical ability might be. Specific areas shouldn’t need to be designed specifically for people with disabilities, as all public spaces should work for everyone.
- Ecological: Exposure to green space and nature is proven to offer cognitive, physical, and mental health benefits for people of all abilities and ages. Universal design should provide greater benefits throughout the built environment and create spaces that people want to spend more of their time in.
- Legible: Understandable and clear designs with legible multi-sensory signals and signage should help people of all abilities and ages understand how to move through spaces.
- Predictable: maintenance of the same clear and easy to understand design cues within a public space helps to create more predictable environments for people of all abilities.
- Navigation in a built environment needs to go beyond visual cues to consider other guidance that can be accessed through various other senses, such as haptic, auditory and textural cues that support experiences for all.
- Walkable: often people with disabilities will be limited by the distances that they can travel. Walkable communities that feature plenty of sidewalks mean that people with limited range are more capable of living their lives independently.