Before I explain how my interest in universal design began, I should explain what it means or how I understand it.
Universal Design is the intention to design buildings, products or services with the whole population of users in mind. It mean designing to include everyone—no barriers for anyone, designing products for all users, and intending to include assistive technology so no one is left out. Universal Design strives to be a big umbrella solution. When utilized, it produces environments that are accessible, usable, and effective for everyone, not just people with disabilities. Universal design can serve the whole population from the cradle to the grave.
As a basic concept, Universal Design recognizes peoples’ needs change and are different at different life stages. For example, a person can live in the same house from babyhood to old age. Universal design is the process of creating products that are accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities, and other characteristics, like age.
The first time I remember becoming really interested in universal design was when I went to Monaco for my 2009 Saint Patrick’s Day exhibition. The exhibition of my paintings was held in the Princess Grace Irish Library. I spent a week in Monaco with several of my friends from the Art class that we all attended every Saturday. During the week we went around Monaco and the first thing that struck me was that the buses could carry three wheelchairs, instead of just one, as on Dublin busses, and that people with disabilities were given priority entering them. Also, the apartment I stayed in was nor only fully accessible, but it was easy to hire any equipment, such as a hospital bed and hoist for me. The apartment I stayed in could accommodate six people.
I especially think that in places such as hospitals, if different procedures such as when a person is having a mammogram, were made accessible for people with disabilities, then all people could be accommodated much easier.
I base this view on my own experience when I went for a mammogram about ten years ago.
When I got the appointment I thought they might have a bed where the scan machine would go over my breast much like an x-ray, so I rang looking for a hoist. The answer I was given was “don’t worry.” But I knew I would not be able to stand for the mammogram even though I have a wheelchair with standing position. I was still worried about how they would be able to position me.
So, I imagined they must have a bed. But to my dismay, I was to have the conventional mammogram. However, even when I put the wheelchair into the standing position, I could barely reach the machine. In the end only a small part of my right breast could reach the machine. So the procedure had to be abandoned.
In conclusion, if governments were to adopt a policy emphasizing universal design, they would help the whole population. And perhaps even the negative attitudes that surround people with disabilities would change the in the whole society.