Product Marketing: Compliance vs. Universal Design

Sep 30, 2011
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I recently came across an article which highlighted the newest product being released by a well-known appliance company.  The company was introducing a freestanding range to its ‘growing ADA-compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act) appliance offerings.’ [i] ”   I did not understand what the term “ADA-compliant” meant in the context of an appliance.  In this case, “ADA-compliant” meant the product included features like upfront controls which can be accessed without reaching across burners. The controls are designed for one-handed operation and are positioned within a forward reach range of 15 and 48 inches.

Customer-based industries (e.g. manufacturers) are increasingly making products which are designed to be usable by a variety of people regardless of disability or need, and yet I was more than a bit reluctant about the use of the term “ADA- compliant”.  Compliance means meeting (frequently minimum) legal standards and rules.  The concept of Universal Design on the other hand is about increasing general access to products, environments, and services without requiring any assistive technologies or modifications.[ii] Examples of Universal Design elements include: easy-to-read buttons with larger graphics and controls, loop handles on drawers and cabinets in lieu of knobs, and hardware that is easy to use.[iii]

The concept of Universal Design has been around for years and has become more prominent since 1999-2000.   However, research notes that professionals within the building, manufacturing, architectural, design and other industries continue to perceive adaptation and adaptive products as “special” and not a part of a mainstream market or market niche.  Research from 2005 in particular notes, “In practice, many architects and developers still resist the Universal Design concept. They feel that it adds to costs and requires fixtures that are reminiscent of nursing homes.”[iv] In my experience, manufacturers and other industries still seem to be caught in niches where people with disabilities are not fully included in mainstream thought as a primary customer.

As I closed the newspaper which contained the piece on the “ADA-compliant” range, I wondered why company product development and marketing campaigns can’t shift to a concept of universal over “special” or adapted products.  Research, development, and marketing strategies should encompass individuals across the age span and eliminate terms like “ADA-compliant”.  When I shop for an appliance, I am looking at factors like the product features, quality, value, and price.  I am not thinking about whether a product is “ADA-compliant”.  If a company offers a product with the features that I want and can use, for the best value, I am more likely to purchase their brand and product.  My disability and diagnosis are not necessarily a part of my buying criteria.  People with disabilities are a primary customer base.  We are interested in products and services which are inclusive, promote ease of use, access, and make environments (home, school and community) more navigable.


[i] Suite News: Whirlpool Brand Adds New Freestanding Range to ADA-Compliant Collection.” PR Newswire. PR Newswire Association LLC. 2011.

[ii] Sullivan, Ed. “Designing for equality: applying principles of universal design provides access, use and enjoyment for homeowners, regardless of their physical limitations.(DESIGN TRENDS)(Barrier free design).” Design/Build Business. Cygnus Business Media Inc. 2005.

[iii] [iii] Universal designed & “smart” kitchens and appliances (part 2).(around the HOUSE)(Report).” Paraplegia News. Paralyzed Veterans of America. 2011.

[iv]Sullivan, Ed. “Designing for equality: applying principles of universal design provides access, use and enjoyment for homeowners, regardless of their physical limitations.(DESIGN TRENDS)(Barrier free design).” Design/Build Business. Cygnus Business Media Inc. 2005.

Author: Kerry



  • http://www.bloggingshiksha.com/2011/09/blog-designer-design-your-own-market/ blog designer

    as university designes are relly better. As they have some creativeness to show…