UD: Social justice or just marketing?

Corning building in New York. A curved affair with a large plaza in front.Does universal design pursue social justice or is it a marketing strategy? Aimi Hamraie takes a look at universal design from a feminist perspective and claims that this is not a value-free notion and not without symbolic meaning. If disability is a product of the built and social environments rather than something intrinsic to the body, then universally designing should be the ideal outcome of disability politics. However, the physical environment alone is not enough to account for exclusion. Also, design professions grapple with the idea that universal design is “one-size-fits-all”, which it is not. This philosophical essay has a distinctly North American approach underpinned by the civil rights movement. It charts the history of UD, argues why design matters, and asks, “How can design be universal?” Hamraie concludes that collective access is the way forward – essentially arguing for participatory design, “shifting from value-explicit design for disability to design with and by misfitting bodies more generally.” The title of the article is, “Designing Collective Access: A Feminist Disability Theory of Universal Design”.

Hamraie is also co-author of a new book, Building Access that brings together UD history and architectural history in designing and making built environments usable by all. The authors ask who counts as the everyone of universal design. Rob Imrie says the book is, “a seminal text that will be received with acclaim and become well-known for its reconstruction of how we think about access, disability, and design.   

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