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Designing buildings for everyone through universal design

When we design and build new or renovated buildings we can think about designing for everyone. This is called universal design. It can make it easier for everyone to access and participate in education without needing more changes or specialised design in the building. This includes children and students with disability.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 makes it a legal requirement for people with disability to have the same basic rights as those without disability. This includes the right to access and participate in education. Universal design supports this right. It follows specific building and design legislation and standards.

Universal design

Universal design thinking can help us to create more inclusive education environments.

The original principles of universal design were created by the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

When we apply universal design thinking we can create buildings that change and adapt for everyone. It's possible to create buildings that respond to the changing circumstances of people with disability and to changes in technology. Universal design can be used for:

  • architecture
  • buildings and playgrounds
  • fixtures and fittings like door handles, furniture, and equipment.

The recommendations we make when we talk about designing for everyone come from the effective building practices for children and students with disability project report. Staff, teachers, architects, service providers and parents all gave us ideas to put in this report.

There is an easy English document you can read. It is about good ways to build schools for students living with disability (Word 735KB).

How it can help

When we design for all, we make it easier for everyone, but especially people with disability. Some of us might not have a permanent disability, but we are all likely to experience some kind of temporary disability in our lifetime (for example, an injury such as a broken leg).

Universal design thinking can make it easier to find your way, make things easier to use, and create more inviting spaces.

Aiming high

Universal design thinking goes further than standard building requirements. A small change can make a huge difference at school to children and young people, their family and carers.

It is very important that we ask children and students with disability and their families what they need to make accessing their education easier. They should be involved in the decisions about designing and making buildings.

It’s also important to ask a qualified disability and access expert about the plan, design and build. People who are members of the Association of Consultants in Access Australia (ACAA) are qualified disability and access experts.

Education staff also need to know how to use their facility to get good educational outcomes for children and students.

Designing for children and students with disability

When designing for children or students with disability, think about spaces and things that allow people to move easily, feel safe and manage how they feel. Include extra features, like quiet spaces and ways for students to hear more easily.

Other important things to think about are:

  • spaces for quiet times
  • spaces that are easy to change (for example, grouping tables together allows group discussions to happen)
  • ways to deal with sound
  • finding your way and getting around.

Space and light

Think about spaces that have:

  • large open natural environments
  • uncluttered spaces
  • natural lighting that connects inside to outside.

Make children and students feel valued and safe

Spaces that are enjoyable to look at and be in can help children and students feel valued and safe. Inviting spaces can make children and students feel happy and connected and this can improve their wellbeing. Make it obvious that supervision is happening at all times – use a clear line of sight.

Ministerial Advisory Committee: Children and Students with Disability

Phone: (08) 8226 2416
Email: educationminadv [at] sa.gov.au