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Universal Design: Designing for Human Needs

November 2016
Executive Summary
The Center For Health Design


Advancements in medicine and lifestyle changes have led to an enormous decrease in human mortality worldwide (Burger, Baudisch, & Vaupel, 2012). While life expectancy rates are improving, however, health and quality of life are not (He, Goodkind, & Kowal, 2016). When designing for an aging population, the consensus is that the environment must be prepared for anything. Couldn’t the same be said for any person, at any age? No one knows what tomorrow brings—how an accident or illness could make our comfortable home, our innovative workplace, or our local park completely incompatible with our needs.

Public policies and design strategies tend to focus on meeting the basic safety and physiological needs of older members of society, but there are missed opportunities to support the higher-level needs of all humans. Referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as well as foundational principles of sustainable design, this brief presents a shifting paradigm in the design of environments for aging toward more universal solutions. The universal design approach is being fostered among many forward-thinking groups who see the benefits of equitable, flexible, and accessible design for society as a whole—both today and in the future.

Universal design is being embraced across the built environment. Design strategies include environments that support aging in place, social networks, active living, age-friendly workplaces, and person-centered healthcare. When designing for aging, there are great opportunities at hand to design for ourselves—for every age—for all.

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