The curb-cut effect illustrates how when we design to benefit disadvantaged or vulnerable groups we end up helping society as a whole.
Angela Glover Blackwell explains how campaigning by students with disabilities in Berkeley in the early 1970s led to adding curb cuts to the Berkeley sidewalks to make access easier for those in wheelchairs. Yet it wasn't just people in wheelchairs that it helped. Curb cuts also made life easier for people pushing children in strollers, people using trolleys for deliveries, people pulling a suitcase, those wheeling bikes or on skateboards, and it also helps save lives by guiding people to cross at safe locations.
Another example is adding closed captioning to TV that helps anyone watch in a noisy bar, a waiting room, or watching an airline safety video. Or a classic example of universal design in the OXO Good Grips range originally made to be comfortable for holding a peeler even if you have arthritis.
It's also a useful analogy for "how laws and programs designed to benefit vulnerable groups, such as the disabled or people of color, often end up benefiting all," (PolicyLink) whether that be increasing broadband access, improving public transport or taking cuts out of curbs.
Here's a short, fun video of Gary Karp explaining the curb-cut effect.
Thanks to my patron Quintin Balsdon for sharing it with me.