The Importance of Universal Design

By Robin Shor, SPLASH

I remember getting certified for Universal Design through Nari several years ago. We had a study group led by Deb Bishop at the “Out of the Woods” offices. We met every week for about 6 weeks, consisting of a group of builders, a couple of designers, and me on the plumbing end of things. It was really helpful and insightful to be in a group where different trades were involved. Everyone was able to contribute to the bigger picture and add their perspective and knowledge. 

The director of our showroom asked me to give a lecture to our employees at Splash and explain what Universal Design was. At the time, the term “Universal Design” was a buzzword and many people weren’t really sure what it meant. So, I prepared myself to speak in front of the 10 salespeople and my boss. This is a daunting task for me because when I try to speak in front of more than 4 people, my brain stops functioning and I start to feel faint. Despite the paralysis, I do think it is important to share pertinent information in this fashion so showroom personnel can be up to date on important trends and philosophies. 

The most interesting thing that came to me while trying to explain what Universal Design is to my colleagues was when one of my co-workers asked me, “What is it?” At that moment, it solidified to me that Universal Design isn’t exactly one thing. It is a way of approaching the design and the installation of products to make the space more usable for people on various ends of the spectrum: the elderly, the young, and people with disabilities. 

Our showroom manager’s elderly parents started having some mobility issues however, they were more or less able to take care of themselves. Her mother was actually afraid to shower because the shower door was broken. Unfortunately, she was getting wet. This was an easy fix—the door should have been able to slide open from both sides, allowing for a much more accessible shower, which universal design implements at a fairly cost-effective price and can make a huge difference in people’s lives. Witnessing the transformative potential of a simple change, like a sliding shower door, underscored the ethos of Universal Design. In essence, it’s not just about designing for specific demographics but embracing a mindset that enhances accessibility and functionality for all. Universal Design is a powerful tool that empowers designers, builders, and enthusiasts to shape a world where spaces are universally welcoming and functional for everyone.

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