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Universal Design of Student Housing

Assoc. Prof. Ing. arch. Lea Rollova, PhD.


Within the meaning of Article 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) all programs and activities related to higher education must be accessible to students with disabilities to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of student life. Now is the time to transform higher education. To participate in this process, all of us in higher education need to explore a concept of Universal Design. Universal Design was originally aimed at innovations in architecture, community spaces and products, but today it is also about creating accessible services and IT products, from the beginning, to the benefit of the widest array of users, including those with disabilities. 

Design of campus should demonstrate the ability to change and adapt to various functions, for example innovative flexible and accessible common spaces – informal learning settings, such as non-traditional spaces for students to collaborate on projects, flexible and accessible student’s housing, or recreational areas constructed to meet the needs of students with disabilities and to other compatible user groups such as single parent households.

Our Centre of Design for All invents new creative design concepts using the method of Universal Design. This presentation shows why features of flexibility and Universal Design should be included in student’s housing design and describes how to create such environment.  Flexible design has the potential to make a key contribution to more sustainable buildings, showing how it has clear social and economic benefits.

Flexible and adaptable student’s housing environment should offer accessible spaces in all parts of facility, incorporates flexibility and choice in moving to, from and within a unit or dwelling, including gently sloping pathways from public spaces to private spaces, level entries, wider doorways and passage ways. In designing process we should not forget to apply Universal Design in creating common spaces such as foyer, terrace, grill/convenience store, mail collection areas, waste management facilities, storage lockers, laundry , washing and drying facilities, bike lockers, parking and outdoor areas. The design of facility must provide a balance in addressing the individual living needs of students with social opportunities and the convenience of academic assistance.

Accessible units are equipped with variety of accessible features aimed to address the unique needs of the resident. Flexible or adaptable units, in contrast, have the ability to be modified to reasonably accommodate the student’s needs, which also means to have the ability to readily adapt the unit with features and fittings as possible needs of change.

Essential condition for inclusion disabled students in student society is accessibility of all buildings and outdoor areas of campus or separate university units. The intent of Universal Design is not only to allow wheelchair access to the physical environment, but also to create orientation and information systems in the environment to improve ability to perceive environments for users with sensory impairment. This concept removes barriers to communication and services, taking into account the safety of users and similar aspects of everyday life.  The environment created by this method ensures adequate conditions for all users and therefore can be a measure of the quality of physical environment.

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