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Design Matters: Built environment advisr Neil Murphy

‘[Universal Design is] about making good design that works for everyone regardless of their age, size, ability or disability’

What is Universal Design? Neil Murphy says it’s the ingredient that makes a good building, product or service into a great one.

“The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design at the National Disability Authority in Dublin is the only statutory centre for Universal Design [UD] in the world. We’re still dealing with the idea that people have of, ‘Oh, you guys do wheelchair design and disabled toilets’, but UD is so much more than that.

“My mother had had an MS diagnosis when I was in college, so I had experienced someone very close to me having to deal with the world around her differently. Though I’d never actually heard the term ‘Universal Design’, I always used my mum’s experience and thought about her when I was designing something, even before I had this job.

“It’s about asking designers to think about the different people who will be living in places, using our public spaces and transport systems, buying their products . . . and using information technology. It’s about making good design that works for everyone regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.


“If you think about it, we’re all differently abled at different stages of our lives: whether we’re carrying heavy bags of shopping, pushing a buggy, or unable because of injury, disability or infirmity to walk. Maybe our vision or hearing is, or will become impaired. UD addresses all these potentials.

“As Hubert Froyen, an architect who specialises in UD says, ‘It should be beautiful and elegant’. The benefit for manufacturers is obvious – the more people who can use your product or service, the more customers you can reach.

“I’m the built environment adviser at the centre, where my role involves managing research, consulting and advising on integrating Universal Design into our public spaces and building projects.

“The work involved with the centre has been a great learning experience . . . Our goal is to get the design community involved in thinking about these things differently, and so making better design.”