Universal Design in Healthcare

A clinic, like no other institution, offers its services to people in different states, with different types of diseases or disorders, both young and old. The concept of Universal Design recognizes that each person is unique and has different abilities and disabilities, as well as vision, hearing, mobility, intellectual abilities, height, weight, sex, gender, age, ways of perception, communication abilities, and psycho-emotional state. In health institutions people are often in altered states. For example, they may be upset, alarmed, excited or anxious. Thus, they are likely to be less attentive and careful. Architects and designers of health institutions should take this fact into account. Universal Design approach is crucial in health design since it makes provisions for such cases.

According to Rone Mace, an American architect and one of the founders of the concept of Universal Design, 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. Universal Design ensured interdisciplinaty and holistic approaches. It focuses on four elements: Environment & facilities; Equipment & furniture; Information; Services.

Why is the importance of Universal design rising and what are its drivers?

The first driver is Human rights promotion movements Universal design with focus on accessibility. In response to Universal design can provide solutions for equal access to health facilities. The second driver is aging population trend. The increase in the quantities of elderly clients creates the need to pay more attention to details, such as non-skid floors, comfortable waiting areas, well-structured space, clear navigation, and accessible information. All these elements are also helpful for other clients. The third, Universal design acknowledges human diversity. For example, people with autistic spectrum disorders require calm environment which, at the same time, is beneficial for all people. Another example of Universal design is creating gender neutral spaces, as opposed to gender marked ones. This is especially important for people with opposite gender identity. The next Universal design driver, changing perceptions about gender roles, should be reflected in relevant space functions and appropriate furniture. Technical innovations, as the next driver, provide solutions for reasonable accommodations, create multifunctional spaces, and help both clients and personnel.

Who benefits from Universal design?

There are: patients; family members and accompanying persons; medical personnel.

Below we suggest reviewing the top seven inconvenience or mistakes in healthcare design and the ways to correct them, based on the 7 principles of Universal Design:

1. Equitable use

2. Flexibility in use;

3. Simple and intuitive use;

4. Perceptible information;

5. Tolerance for error;

6. Low physical effort;

7. Size and space for approach and use.

7 mistakes in healthcare design and how to correct them

A lot of pictures of modern and popular design, are serving as a good example of the two mistakes combined: using only one color and full transparent glass. Such design makes the environment dangerous. Simple solutions: using bright contrast elements marking of glass more visible for clients with vision impairments and attracts the attention of all visitors and personnel, preventing injury, according to Principle 5: Tolerance for Error. The prescription to one-colored space: it is color differentiation of walls, floor, doors, and furniture. According to Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use, colour differentiation: helps persons with vision impairments to navigate; attracts the attention of visitors and personnel; prevents falling and injury.

Mistake number three is a space burdened with details and too many bright colors, usually applied for children spaces. Such space is terrible for people with mental health and development disorders, such as of autism spectrum. Complexity in design can cause anxiety and nervousness. Citing Simon Humphreys, architect, autistic people are sensitive to sensory stimuli and they can have difficulties filtering foreground and background information. They are also capable of perceiving details unnoticed by others. What is a better way? Design clear and simple solutions for spaces. Limit the number of materials, colours, and details applied. Spaces should be understandable and easy to absorb. Moreover, they should have fixed orientation points. Provide adequate size and space for easy access to and use of objects, equipment, and services by different clients, regardless of their height, age, size, functional disabilities, and mobility level. Provide options for different individual abilities and preferences. Provide the opportunity to choose between different user modes. The lobby and corridors have promoted mobility and accessibility for all visitors; waiting areas should be tailored to the needs of different clients according to Principle 1: Equitable Use and Principle 7: Size and Space for Approach and Use.

Mistake number four is not user friendly design. Often the lobby space, furniture of reception are uncomfortable an not friendly for people using wheelchairs, visitors with children, the elderly, and the personnel. As example, a low reception promotes Principle 1: Equitable Use, creating equal conditions for all clients, including children, elderly, persons with limited mobility. Designers recommend using special furniture or devices to create a user-friendly environment. For example, a hanging baby seat in the bathroom provides comfort and minimizes physical effort according to Principle 6, serving as an example of user-friendly design.

Mistake number five is not user-friendly information, such as little contrast and small fonts that are especially inconvenient for people with visual, intellectual, cognitive   impairments, children, and the elderly. Designers are recommended to present information taking into account such factors as different levels of education, users’ language skills, attention levels, and the age of visitors. Also, keep in mind clients’ sensory abilities and dis-abilities. Incorporate different ways of presenting information (written, oral, and tactile). For example, monitors in waiting areas provide information about the queue progress and doctors’ availability (Principle 4: Perceptible Information), which reduces tension and improves the comfort of clients.

Mistake number six is using unclear symbols for marking premises, zones, facilities, that can cause difficulties for visitors with cognitive or intellectual disabilities and for children. Use common and recognizable signs. An example of an information sign for a universal toilet with the International Symbol of Access, according to Principle 1: Equitable Use and Principle 4: Perceptible Information.

Mistake number seven is unclear navigation. Convenient navigation allows customers to be independent and self-confident. It also reduces stress. Not all visitors are ready and able to ask for help. Applying contrast colour coding to different functional areas and pathways makes it easier for visitors to navigate the facility according to Principle 3: Simple and Intuitive Use.

Tues, according to Universal design principles, design of healthcare institutions should be: diversity- and human-oriented; ordered and structured; simple and clear; calm; used a small amount of contrasting colours; secure.


 Olena Ivanova    


Лого UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons With Disabilities



Лого ILO


Лого Національної Асамблеї людей з інвалідністю України

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