by Mary Beaumont
Universal design at its core is inclusive design. It focuses on designing a space to make everyone feel safe and welcome, regardless of their size, age, or ability level. People with disabilities make up almost 19% of the U.S. population, 20% of the population is thought to be neurodivergent and 16% of the population is over 65. Therefore, it’s important for anyone designing an inclusive healthcare environment to consider those who will be using the space – old, young, disabled, tall, short and so forth – and apply the following seven principles of universal design:
- Equitable Use: Support a wide range of abilities.
- Flexibility in Use: Accommodate individual preferences and skills.
- Simple and Intuitive Use: Easy to understand for all levels and language skills.
- Perceptible Information: Provide necessary information, regardless of sensory capabilities.
- Tolerance for Error: Minimize hazards, adverse consequences, or unintentional actions.
- Low Physical Effort: Efficient and comfortable for minimum fatigue.
- Appropriate Size and Space: Maintain the appropriate size and space relative to the design.
The seven principles are a good fundamental starting point. However, designing with empathy in addition to these principles takes universal design one step further. It’s crucial to creating environments that prioritize patient comfort, well-being, and positive healthcare experiences.
Here are a few healthcare-specific examples of designing with empathy:
Patient-Centered Room Layouts: Incorporating space for family members to stay overnight, comfortable seating options for visitors, and designated areas for personal belongings can create a more welcoming and accommodating environment.
Noise Reduction Measures: Many individuals can be sensitive to sounds and loud noises. Create a quieter and more relaxed atmosphere by using sound masking in waiting spaces and consult rooms to enhance privacy and reduce anxiety.
Calming and Healing Environments: Use natural light, soothing color palettes, artwork, and biophilic elements to create a peaceful and healing atmosphere.
Waiting Room Seating: Typically, singular chairs are used to separate patients in waiting areas, but that approach isn’t always best for those of all sizes and abilities. A better application may be double-wide chairs, a love seat, easy access chairs or pediatric seating.
Collaboration Zones: Designing consultation rooms, family meeting rooms, or innovative teaming areas encourages effective communication and collaboration, enabling caregivers to actively participate in care decisions and be informed partners in the healthcare journey.
A well designed, universal space requires research, innovation, understanding and compassion. How do we ensure that the space will be inclusive of the people using it? Engaging patients, families, and caregivers through surveys during the design phase can provide valuable feedback to the design team.
At Red Thread, our commitment to designing healing environments revolves around four essential needs. By focusing on safety, inclusion, autonomy, and comfort, we aim to create spaces where patients and their families can heal, recover, and thrive. We believe that a holistic approach to healthcare design is vital in providing the best possible experience for individuals during challenging times.
Mary Beaumont, NCIDQ is healthcare specialist at Red Thread.