Initially, the term “Universal Design” was coined by architect, Ronald L. Mace, a graduate and affiliate of North Carolina State University. Universal Design (UD) is “the idea that all new environments and products to the greatest extent possible should be usable by everyone regardless of age, ability, or circumstance.” (1) His work eventually led to founding the Center for Universal Design based at NCSU.
The seven principles for Universal Design are:
Flexibility in Use
Simple and Intuitive Use
Tolerance for Error
Low Physical Effort
Size and Space for Approach and Use (1)
A 2009 article by Ann S. Williams, PhD, RN, CDE in Diabetes Education, encourages the adoption of UD principles not only in medical devices used to monitor diabetes, but also in Diabetes Self-Management Education (DSME), emphasizing a strategy to accommodate not just the 90% of average users, but as close to 100% as possible (2, p. 2)
As an illustration, consider a DSME class that contains persons with hearing loss, visual impairment, and ADD, as well as those without current disability. If essential material is simultaneously presented in both audible and visual formats – for example, using colorful illustrations in a slide presentation with detailed verbal description from the instructor – persons with hearing loss, visual impairments, and ADD will be better able to perceive, attend, and understand it. Adding a lively participatory game will enhance the attention of the person with ADD. Making all classroom materials available in printed handouts, and also in audio-recordings or digital format ensures that persons with visual impairment or ADD can review the information at their own pace and in their own way. (2, p. 5-6)
UD presents principles that are applicable to the biomedical field as a whole, and can be integral in overall health literacy and efforts in all biomedical libraries. As William proposes, if we begin new strategies with Universal Design principles in mind, we can potentially eliminate the need to add “adaptations or special design” at a later date. (2, p. 7)
AbleData also provides lists of regional, national, and international resources and conferences. A searchable assistive technology literature library includes links to thousands of publications on 45 different topics, along with downloadable fact sheets on each major category of assistive technology. One of the more interesting documents on the site is their Guide to Indexing Terms, which is helpful in researching information both on the AbleData site and other databases.
AbleData is an excellent resource for biomedical librarians not when considering assistive technology purchases, but also as an informative resource referral for clinicians and patients alike.