Question: What is "universal design?" I've heard this term used, but don't know what it means.
Answer: Universal design is a term used most often in architecture. It refers to designing buildings that are accessible and useable by everyone, including those with disabilities. In building design it would include things like curb cuts, levered door handles, accessible restrooms, lower counters, sinks, large print and braille signs, etc. It's much easier to include universal design principles when a building is being constructed than to try to retrofit an existing building that was never designed for accessibility.
iPod's, iPhones, Ipads, etc. all have built in screen magnification for the vision impaired and speech for blind users. The latest designs also allow a computer user to perform many functions simply by talking to the computer. These features are included when you purchase one of these devices, with nothing extra for a person with a disability to purchase in order to use the product.
Microsoft has some catching up to do in this area.
Universal design is moving into the television and telecommunications industries. New regulations from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designate that menus on televisions and those provided by cable/satellite services be accessible beginning in 2013. It will be interesting to see how these companies address these new requirements. Who knows? They may even design a remote control that makes sense to those of us who are a little less tech savvy!
Our thanks to the reader who asked this question. Here's where to send your comments or inquiries:
At Your Service, Rob Stemple, Daily American newsroom, PO Box 638 Somerset, PA 15501 or email email@example.com.
(Rob Stemple is Community Outreach and Rehabilitation Liaison for Somerset County Blind Center (SCBC); a Division of the Susquehanna Association for the Blind and Vision Impaired (SABVI). He is available to speak to school and civic groups, churches, etc. Rob is a member of Apostles Creed, a Contemporary Christian group based at Unity United Church of Christ that provides music for community events and fundraisers. Call him at 814-445-1310 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for additional information.)