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The Benefits of a Universal Design Approach in Design and Construction Projects.

Posted on February 20, 2024

Eoin O’Herlihy

G3ict Country Advisor, Ireland; CPABE Level 3 - Expert Accessibility Professional

We are aware that meeting the requirements of building control regulations or building codes at the national level is the minimum requirement in many countries to make a building or a facility accessible, but this may not be enough to achieve an inclusive environment that is fully accessible for all.

At O’Herlihy Access Consultancy (OHAC) we have had the opportunity to work with many clients nationally and internationally, who want to ensure their buildings and facilities are fully accessible and usable for all, to maximize inclusivity. As part of these projects, we have worked either directly for the client or directly as a design team member advising on all aspects of Universal Design. We have been engaged from the start of the process to ensure that Universal Design is being assessed, incorporated, and reported on at all stages of the project.

A key element of all our projects is stakeholder engagement and involving end users in the process. This ensures that all voices are heard, and everyone has a better understanding of the challenges and barriers within the built environment. It creates an awareness of the importance of Universal Design in the design and construction process, but also in relation to the operations and management of the facility post-occupation (e.g. organising accessible events; Trained and welcoming staff; Safe evacuation; maintaining hearing enhancement systems, lifts etc.).

Universal Design is defined in Article 2 of United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as meaning the design of products, environments, programmes, and services to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design. "Universal design" shall not exclude assistive devices for particular groups of persons with disabilities where this is needed. (Article 2 - definitions).

There are many benefits of a Universal Design Approach in Design and Construction Projects including:

1. The visitor and user experience for everyone is enhanced. For example, providing quiet areas within the facility will not just benefit neurodivergent users within the facility but everyone will be able to take time out; Clear signage and wayfinding will benefit first-time visitors to a facility; Mixed seating provided throughout the building will benefit younger users, older users and people of different sizes.

2. Meeting and exceeding building control legislative requirements, while also addressing equality, disability, and human rights legislation. There are times when Building Control Regulations or standards may not take into account other international or national legislation (e.g. Equality or Disability laws). By adopting a Universal Design approach, you will ensure that all aspects of legislation are considered and addressed.

3. Adopting a Universal Design approach will ensure world-class inclusive and welcoming spaces are created that allow everyone to thrive and grow within the facility.

4. Engagement with end users ensures the facilities are fully accessible and usable for all. As an access consultant or advisor on projects, you can learn first-hand the barriers and challenges currently faced by users and ensure that these barriers are removed from the design of the building.

5. Creating fully accessible and usable spaces will enhance diversity and inclusion because of the collaborative process undertaken at all stages of the project. Everyone will have an opportunity to input into the design, resulting in best-in-class facilities for all.

6. Addressing Universal Design criteria throughout the design and construction process increases awareness and understanding of the importance of Universal Design as all team members have bought into the process. For example, landscape architects need to ensure Universal Design is addressed in the external approach to the facilities; Architects will need to identify if Gender Neutral Washrooms are required and need to understand the benefits of incorporating Changing Places Toilets; Signage and wayfinding designers need to incorporate accessibility requirements into their design (e.g. Braille, Tactile indicators, use of technology) to assist wayfinding.

7. By addressing Universal Design, the building/facility will be fully accessible and usable for all employees regardless of their age, size, or disability. This will allow the owner of the facility to attract and retain a diverse mix of talent & skills and improve retention of employees who acquire a disability.

8. The building/facility will be future-proofed which prevents costly retrofits in the long run. It will also ensure the building is fit for purpose for many years to come.

To find out more about the Universal Design approach adopted by OHAC, please contact or phone 00-353-1-4151285.