Universal Design Principles for Interiors: Making Spaces Accessible for All

Think Interior
7 min readJan 26, 2023

Universal design principles for interiors involve designing spaces accessible for all people, regardless of their physical abilities. These principles include flexibility, simple and intuitive design, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, size and space for approach and use, accessibility, fair use, inclusive design, and sustainability. Incorporating these principles into interior design can make spaces more accessible for people with disabilities and people of all ages and abilities.

This article will discuss how an interior design diploma-certified professional can apply universal design principles in interior spaces, such as flooring, lighting, doorways, furniture, and technology, to create inclusive and welcoming environments for all. It will also cover the other key considerations when applying universal design principles to interiors.

Universal Design Principles for Interiors

Universal design is an approach to design that aims to make spaces and products accessible to people of all ages and abilities. By considering these principles, designers can create more inclusive, functional, and comfortable interiors for all users. It’s worth noting that these principles are not only for commercial spaces, homes, and any other building or structure where people spend time.

Several principles are commonly used in universal design for interiors, including:

Flexibility

The space should be adaptable to various individual preferences and abilities.

Simple and Intuitive

The design should be easy to understand and use, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.

Durability

Spaces and products should be durable and long-lasting, with features such as easy-to-clean surfaces and materials that are resistant to wear and tear.

Perceptible Information

Information should be easily perceived, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.

Comfort

Spaces and products should be comfortable for users, with features such as ergonomic seating, good ventilation, and appropriate temperature control.

Tolerance for Error

The design should minimize hazards and adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.

Low Physical Effort

The design should minimize the physical effort required to use the space.

Size and Space for Approach and Use

The design should provide appropriate size and space for approach, reach, manipulation, and use, regardless of the user’s body size, posture, or mobility.

Accessible

The design should be usable by as many people as possible without needing adaptation or specialized design.

Equitable Use

The design should be beneficial and saleable to people with varied capabilities.

Inclusive Design

The design should consider the needs of all people, including those with disabilities, in the design process.

Sustainability

The design should be environmentally friendly, energy-efficient, and sustainable.

Cultural Sensitivity

Spaces and products should include different cultures and user groups, considering different needs, preferences, and requirements.

Ways to Use Universal Design Principles

We can apply universal design principles in a variety of ways in interior spaces, such as:

Flooring

Provide various flooring options for mobility devices, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes. This can include installing non-slip flooring and providing a clear pathway with no obstacles.

Lighting

Adequate lighting is important for all users, particularly those with low vision. This can include task lighting, such as a reading lamp, and ambient lighting, which provides a general illumination level. It is also important to consider the color temperature of the light, as some people may be sensitive to certain colors.

Color Contrast

High contrast between walls, flooring, and other surfaces can aid in navigation and wayfinding for people with low vision. This can include using contrasting colors for door frames, stair treads, and other surfaces that need to be easily distinguished.

Doorways and Hallways

These spaces should be wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs and other mobility devices. This can include installing automatic door openers and providing enough space for people to navigate comfortably.

Furniture

Consider the needs of all users when selecting furniture. This can include providing adjustable seating, such as height-adjustable desks and chairs, and armrests and back support for those who need additional help.

Bathrooms

Bathrooms should accommodate all users, including those with disabilities. This can include installing grab bars, providing a roll-in shower, and ensuring enough space for a wheelchair to maneuver.

Elevators and Ramps

Elevators and ramps should accommodate all users, including those with disabilities. This can include providing Braille buttons and voice announcements, as well as ensuring that there is enough space for a wheelchair to maneuver.

Acoustics

Consider the space’s acoustics, as they can affect the ability of people with hearing impairments to navigate and communicate. This can include installing sound-absorbing materials and avoiding hard, reflective surfaces that can create echoes.

Wayfinding

Provide clear and intuitive wayfinding throughout the space. This can include using contrasting colors and textures, providing clear signage, and using natural lighting to help guide people through the area.

Power and Data Access

Provide power and data access in various locations throughout the space to accommodate different work styles and devices. This can include providing power outlets at different heights and in other areas and providing wireless access points for easy internet connectivity.

Outdoor Spaces

Consider the accessibility of outdoor spaces, such as gardens, patios, and courtyards. This can include providing ramps and level pathways, seating at different heights, and ensuring that outdoor spaces are well-lit.

Technology

Consider the use of technology to enhance accessibility and functionality. This can include installing speech-to-text software, providing assistive listening devices, and using sensors to control lighting and temperature.

Maintenance

Plan for the ongoing maintenance of the space to ensure it remains accessible over time. This can include regular inspections, maintenance schedules, and staff and maintenance personnel training.

Needs of People

Another important aspect of universal design for interiors is considering the needs of people with cognitive or sensory disabilities. This can include:

Simplifying the Layout of the Space

People with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty navigating complex spaces, so it is important to simplify the layout and make it as intuitive as possible.

Providing Clear and Consistent Signage

People with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty understanding and interpreting signs, so providing clear and consistent signage throughout the space is important.

Using Sensory Cues

People with cognitive disabilities may benefit from sensory cues, such as contrasting colors, patterns, and textures, to help guide them through the space.

Providing Quiet Spaces

People with sensory disabilities, such as those on the autism spectrum, may be sensitive to noise and require quiet spaces where they can retreat and relax.

Using Natural Materials

Using natural materials, such as wood, stone, and plants, in the design of the space can create a calming and soothing environment for people with cognitive or sensory disabilities.

Providing a Variety of Seating Options

People with cognitive or sensory disabilities may have different seating needs, so it is important to provide various seating options, such as rocking chairs, bean bag chairs, and other types of seating that accommodate different needs and preferences.

Providing Translation and Interpretation Services

Ensure that information and signage are available in multiple languages and that interpretation and translation services are available for people who may not speak the primary language of the space.

Considering Cultural Norms and Traditions

Different cultures may have different norms and traditions regarding the design of spaces. For example, some cultures prefer separate spaces for men and women, while others prefer open spaces. It’s important to consider and respect these cultural differences in the design process.

Providing a Welcoming and Inclusive Environment

The design of the space should be welcoming and inclusive for people of all cultures and backgrounds and should avoid stereotypes or cultural appropriation.

Providing Accessibility for People with Disabilities from Diverse Cultures

It’s important to remember that people with disabilities from diverse cultures may have different accessibility needs and to consider these in the design process.

Providing Alternative Forms of Communication

People with communication disabilities may use alternative forms of communication, such as sign language, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, or picture boards. It’s important to provide accessibility for these forms of communication in the space, such as providing visual cues and ensuring that sign language interpreters are available.

Providing Clear and Concise Information

People with communication disabilities may have difficulty understanding and processing information, so it’s important to provide clear and concise information throughout the space.

Providing Visual Aids

People with communication disabilities may benefit from visual aids, such as pictures, diagrams, or videos, to help them understand information.

Using Simple and Easy-to-Understand Language

People with communication disabilities may have difficulty understanding complex language, so it’s important to use simple and easy-to-understand language throughout the space.

Providing Captioning and Subtitles

People with communication disabilities may have difficulty hearing or understanding speech, so providing captioning and subtitles for videos and other audio content in the space is important.

Providing a Variety of Communication Options

People with communication disabilities may have different communication needs, so it’s important to provide various communication options, such as text-to-speech and speech-to-text software, to accommodate different needs and preferences.

Summary

In summary, incorporating universal design principles in interior spaces can make them more accessible and inclusive for all people, regardless of their abilities. Designers can test the universal design principles applied in their designs if they have a certification in cad courses for interior design. This can include designing spaces that are easy to navigate, providing ample lighting, and selecting furniture and finishes that are comfortable and easy to use. By considering the needs of all users, architects and designers can create functional, beautiful, and welcoming spaces.

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