Applying Universal Design to Emergency Evacuation

One important principle within a social model of disability is that of universal design. Universal design is defined by the United Nations as 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.” The definition includes the use of assistive devices for certain groups, where needed.

Universal design concepts apply when a building is used in its normal state, but how can they be applied for use during emergencies? Some emergencies require building evacuations, which can be especially challenging for people with disabilities. For example, elevators might be out of service, and the stairs might not be an option. 

An article on explores the need to consider universal design principles to ensure the safety of all occupants, in particular during emergencies. Lee Wilson, the author of the article, a disability access and egress consultant with experience in the property and construction industry, provides some basic steps for the application of universal design in the emergency planning for buildings.

Some of the steps include such measures as tailored evacuation plans, evacuation chairs or evacuation lifts (elevators), accessible handrails on both sides of all fire stairs, contrasting colours around exit doors with accessible door handles, and clear and unambiguous exit signage with Braille and tactile characters. The author points out that, as our population ages and we extend our working lives, the need for universally accessible exit routes from buildings becomes more of a priority. 

To read more about the steps to applying universal design to emergency evacuation, click here