The ambition of the Universal Design Hub is to set in motion a process of transformation in our common understanding of the ideal person. We do so through increased use of the value-based concept of Universal Design as a lever for the Sustainable Development Goals’ headline Leave No One Behind.
The ideal person does not exist in reality. Yet, as professionals and as a society, consciously or subconsciously, we most often take our starting point in a human understanding that maintains an idealised form of humans as the norm.
Designers and architects and other professional groups that shape the framework of our lives often take their starting point in standard sizes. Based on Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man or Le Corbusier’s Le Modulor, for example, and the notion of a human average, the framework is shaped, based on an idealised human being who in reality does not exist. As a society, we divide citizens into ‘with and without disabilities’, minorities and majorities, rather than recognising that everyone lives with different functional abilities and that the diversity of user needs means that humans do not come in standard sizes.
Designing and securing the future of the lived life so that everyone is included requires a break with the ideal person and a recognition of human diversity as a basic premise.
Through the concept of Universal Design, we seek to achieve equality and equal opportunities for everyone to participate in and contribute to society. A fundamental part of Universal Design is the human understanding on which the concept is based. This presupposes that we are all different and that the functional capacity of humans changes during the course of their lives, either for a short time or for a longer period of time.
Our lives and our functional abilities are dynamic; one has certain functional abilities as a child and others as an adult and as an elderly person. With an inclusive and broad starting point in human diversity as a basic premise, Universal Design can contribute as a lever to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals’ promise Leave No One Behind.
Universal Design is a strategic tool that focuses on human diversity and the user needs that arise in different contexts. Universal Design refers to a breadth of interdisciplinary methods intended to create products, architecture, services and applications that can be used by everyone, regardless of their functional abilities, cultural and linguistic background, preferences and needs. It is an important tool in the development of an inclusive and sustainable society.
Universal Design was developed in the 1980s by American architect Ron Mace and is described and discussed in detail in the book Universal Design Handbook from 2001. The concept has been further supported by seven concrete design principles.
Universal Design grew from a desire to formulate a design concept that was not limited to people with functional limitations. Previous concepts such as Barrier-Free and Accessibility were often interpreted as special solutions for people with functional limitations and, despite good intentions, they ended up exposing the users. That interpretation implied the existence of a “them” and “us”, which Mace wanted to break with and gather into a collective “we”. Mace’s formulation of Universal Design aimed at making it clear that the use of an inclusive environment concerns us all.
“Universal Design is the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design” – Ron Mace
Universal Design is a context-sensitive concept that is interpreted and used differently in different disciplines.
The concept covers time, value, strategy, process and design at the same time. Our use of the term Universal Design refers to a breadth of methods intended to create products, architecture and environments that respond to all users regardless of their functional capacity. Furthermore, we consider Universal Design a value-based strategy, which is not only represented in the final product, but equally in the design process and the elements that make up the process. Universal Design is thus a significant tool for achieving equality and equal opportunities so that everyone can participate in and contribute to society.
Since Mace originally defined the term, American researchers Steinfeld and Maisel, among others, have further developed the concept and formulated their understanding of the concept as:
“Universal Design is a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness and social participation” – Steinfeld and Maisel, 2014
Leave No One Behind
In the UN’s many years of work on sustainability and improving the living conditions of all people, they saw that while progress was being made, there was still a group of people whom the improvements did not reach. Therefore, the promise behind the 17 2030 goals is Leave No One Behind.
Leave No One Behind is a cross-cutting promise to ensure that marginalised groups are not overlooked and left behind in the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals. The promise recognizes the risk of particularly vulnerable and exposed groups being overlooked. The goals therefore emphasise that those who are left behind must be pulled forward and helped to “reach the furthest behind first”.
‘# 4. As we embark on this great collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind. Recognizing that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, we wish to see the Goals and targets met for all nations and peoples and for all segments of society. And we will endeavour to reach the furthest behind first.’
The attention to overlooked and marginalised groups emphasises the importance of focusing on strengthening inclusion and ensuring equal opportunities for all, also in a Danish context.
Examples of people with functional limitations being left behind in a Danish context indicate that there is still a need for a more inclusive understanding of human diversity. This applies to key areas for an equal and meaningful life, such as education, employment and health.