Late last year I was asked to do a segment with KITV on their Aging Well Segment to show an example of a universally designed bedroom and bathroom I did for a client. During the interview I was explaining what Universal Design is and offered an example of the difference between Universal Design and designing to age in place The example I gave was that when an accessible entrance and a traditional entrance are put near one another, everyone just naturally used the accessible entrance because it was more comfortable, i.e. it was wider, easier to open etc. But in many designs, we are prompted to feel that we should not use that entrance, that is only for the impaired. (This example applies to the restrooms for sure, but unfortunately there is never enough room to build all the stalls with ADA dimensions)
I’m not sure my example really had an impact and since then I’ve been looking for examples to better explain what I do as a primarily universal designer and how it can change the way we look at our environment. And then I read an article about the recent remodeling of the Oslo Metro in Norway.
When they redesigned the space they reversed all wayfinding cues so that an accessible exit was just marked EXIT and all other exits that required specific mobility skills had the pictograms that we typically see for the handicapped. The use of signs was thus reversed. The accessible exit became the obvious exit for all travelers, needing no special marking. Other exits were marked with their specific restrictive properties….it was a subtle, but important, manifestation of a change of mindset.
It is a large scaled example of what we do for client’s bathrooms, kitchens, etc. every day. When a space works for everyone, there is no need for a sign to remind someone of their disability. We all have disabilities of some sort at some time in our life. Design can move us past singling them out with signs.