Universal Design, It’s Not a Mythical Beast!

Image is a black and white sketch of a mythical rabbit with reindeer horns.

For the Auslan version of this article scroll to the bottom.

SIGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! I have had a day when I just have decided that hearing people or non disabled people, take your pick, need to go in the bin. Sometimes you get to a point where you think they are just more trouble than they are worth. You know, they just think about themselves and no one else. You want to slap sense into them, but my mother told me that violence was not the answer. I am pretty sure she is wrong, but a mothers influence is strong.

Did you read my last article? You can read it HERE if you didn’t. It tells the tale of the deaf couple that wanted a transfer to our services but couldn’t even get past the phone operator because the operator refused the assistance of a third person. That couple who had a 100 km round trip to try and sign up for our services. That couple that patiently waited for two and a half hours while we tried to get them transferred and were refused by a rigid hearing designed system. Yeah them, they are still waiting.

Something that should have taken ten minutes has now been escalated all the way to the top dog. Who, credit to them, replied to me within fifteen minutes and instructed their minions to fix the farce. So now, what should have been over in ten minutes, has a number of high ranking bureaucrats running about to make a simple thing like a transfer to another service happen. I don’t know how much this is costing the tax payer, but this is what happens when you design systems with with very little thought for the needs of people with a disability. Or simply all people for that matter.

Before I get into the meat of this tale, I will tell you a funny little aside. These hearing people told us to tell our Deaf clients to call them through the National Relay Service and they would help them. Another third person but go figure. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHAHAH. So funny!!!. As it turns out our deaf heroes are not even registered with the NRS because they think the service is so rubbish. And it is!

But anyway! You non-Deaf, non disabled people out there, I’m going to lecture you. I’m going to Deafsplain to you in very simple terms what you should be doing. Just as you are often condescending to us, I am about to be so to you. I fear it is the only way to make you all understand!

Firstly, all of you, you people with expensive university degrees who are employed and contracted to design systems, services, products and buildings etc, learn what Universal Design means. I will put it in very simple words. You design things FOR EVERYONE. Not just the so called privileged majority. I could explain to you what the term EVERYONE means. But I am banking on the fact that your expensive education has taught you this already.

So, just to be clever I will give you a jargonised definition of what universal design means.

Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, universal design is good design.

Yes! A building needs to be accessible – A system like a phone system or a customer service system needs to be accessible – Education needs to be accessible – The environment needs to be accessible – Public facilities and services need to be accessible – TO THE GREATEST EXTENT POSSIBLE!



Is that clear? Do I need to put it it in plainer English? Let me know, I am certainly happy to try and explain it more simpler for you . After all, that is Universal Design!

Now in simple terms, if you are a person designing these systems, buildings, services, products etc, ask yourself,

  1. Can all people get in?
  2. Can all people reach it?
  3. Can all people hear it?
  4. Can all people see it?
  5. Can all people get on it?
  6. Can all people process it?

There are other questions, I am sure, but the idea is that you consider as many possible scenarios as you can to encompass all people to THE GREATEST EXTENT possible. This means, just incase extent is a word that you don’t understand – THE MOST POSSIBLE!

Most of all just ask yourself – CAN ALL PEOPLE USE IT????!!!!!!!!

If the answer to any of these questions is NO, design it better. And for god sake, if you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and it is ok if you do not – Go and consult with people that do!

OOOHHHH, I can read minds – It will cost too much! … It will take too long! … It’s not realistic! My answer to all of you nae-sayers thinking this is – POPPYCOCK!

Read this, then click on it to take you to the website:

According to the Center for Universal Design, “The intent of universal design is to simplify life for everyone by making products, communications, and the built environment more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost. Universal design benefits people of all ages and abilities.” Adds John P.S. Salmen, president of Universal Designers & Consultants, Takoma Park, Md., “Universal design is a much more holistic view of the lifespan and people’s changing abilities throughout their lives.”

In short, take the time to do it right and make the world accessible to everyone. It will save everyone money in the long run. Believe me it takes more time and money to redesign things and systems that inadvertently have not considered the needs of every one. Just ask the bureaucrats who are running around trying to fix the mess that was created and that prevented access for my clients today. I’m betting you that they wish someone had got it right the first time.

That’s Universal Design for you. It’s not a mythical beast! Make it real, it’s in your hands!

Auslan version below. With thanks to Marnie Kerridge