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‘Optional’ = ‘Never’

by Louis on October 5, 2009

The word ‘optional‘ is kind of funny in Universal Design. In fact, it really doesn’t work.

Almost no one chooses the accessibility items we advocate. Especially if there is an associated cost. Universal Design must be required, standard or strongly incentivized. NOT optional.

Two points.

One is that over time we find that Universal Design features, while conceived for those with problems, provide benefit for all. (see earlier post on Magic) It is best for everyone to understand that they benefit themselves.

The second is clear when we consider Aging in Place. Many of us come to need UD features in the process of our lives, in particular through increasing longevity. Their absence causes dislocations and hardship. Adding the features costs too much.

Example: Accessible plugs and controls for lighting and fan in the kitchen. If these are cost options to homebuyers no one will buy them because they are not needed. If they are not included when the homes are built their cost (while not incidental now) will be prohibitive later. Making them optional means leaving them out forever. If we are making the kitchen useful to a future user, someone who has trouble walking, reaching and leaning, etc. we have to do it now.

These items are less recognized but of equal import to maneuvering spaces and no step entries. Many are starting to see that those cannot be optional. It is too hard to change the landscape and grade or hallways and door width later. We need to widen our scope because the faulty ‘optional’ mechanism is the same.

‘Optional’ = ‘Never’

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