Universalism: who does it serve?

A graphic showing tall buildings and trees set on an architect drawingRob Imrie and Rachael Luck discuss universal design from the perspective of how it relates to the lives and bodies of people with disability. Their philosophic offering is the introduction to a set of eight papers in a special issue of Disability and Rehabilitation. Some important questions are raised about the role of universalism and the embodiment of disability. For example, proponents of universal design say that users are crucial to the design process, but what does that mean for the skills of designers – will they be lost or discounted? Yet these are the people who have the power to use their skills “in ways where some social groups will benefit and others do not”. The focus of universal design is often on techniques and operational outcomes, but is this enough – are there other aspects to think about? Imrie and Luck provide a paragraph on each paper and conclude:

“The papers, as a collective, are supportive of universal design, and see it as a progressive movement that is yet to realise its potential. The contributors provide insight into the tasks ahead, including need for much more theoretical development of what universal design is or ought to be in relation to the pursuit of design for all and not the few.  This includes development and deployment of concepts that enable non-reductive conceptions of design and disability to emerge, aligned to political and policy strategies that enable universal design to become a socio-political movement in its broadest sense.”

The title of the editorial of the special edition of Disability and Rehabilitation is, “Designing inclusive environments: rehabilitating the body and the relevance of universal design”. Thought provoking reading for anyone interested in UD as a social movement as well as design thinking. There is more on their universalising design blog site.