Using the Terms Universal and Accessible
After spending time this year cruising challenge course-related Internet sites and looking over similiar printed program literature, I noticed a tendency to misuse the term Universal or to use it synonymously with the term Accessible. In order to help vendors and programs more accurately market their services, let's take a look at the differences between these terms. Understanding the differences could actually enhance your marketing efforts.
First, it is encouraging to see how many vendors and programs are addressing the needs of people with disabilities. The industry has come a long way in this regard. And, generally speaking, the terminology being used is positive. I think this is a testament to the value ACCT and its membership has placed on this area and how effective the message has been over the past ten years.
When using the term Universal, think of it as an overarching concept that indicates a challenge course and/or program that is designed to include participants across the full range of human diversity. As the song goes, "There are long ones, tall ones, big ones, brown ones, white ones, black ones, and lazy ones," or something like that. You get the picture. With Universal designs, there are meaningful options for each group member, including participants with disabilities. This certainly does not mean that everyone does the same thing the same way. That would be unrealistic. Instead, everyone has choices that are challenging, they are okay with those choices, and they stay connected with the group process.
The facilitator plays a critical role. He or she encourages a group process that respects each person's right to make choices and values each person's involvement. Without a challenge course or facilitation strategies that offer these options, then artificial boundaries have been imposed which may compromise the purpose of their experience. As the term Universal suggests, you should be able to stretch it, shape it, adjust it, or adapt it to make it work for you.
Criticism of challenge courses typically focuses on the physical nature of the experience and a lack of relevance to real-world problems. Universal design will help individualize challenges in ways that connect more vividly to the group goals. It does this by de-emphasizing irrelevant individual differences while encouraging a shared experience of physical, psychological, and emotional challenges. Market a Universal approach, and you will broaden your appeal instead of simply shifting it to a different population.
When a design or service is specifically targeting people with disabilities, then the appropriate terminology is Accessible, such as installing a ramp on an element for a person using a wheelchair or using a 4:1 mechanical advantage system with a person who physically can't climb. While these features can be part of a Universal design, accessible components alone tend not to offer Universal design.