A new book covers several topics in design: universal design; design for all; digital inclusion; universal usability; and accessibility of technologies regardless of users’ age, financial situation, education, geographic location, culture and language. It especially focuses on accessibility for people with auditory, cognitive, neurological, and visual impairments, ageing populations, and mobility for those with special physical needs.
The title of the book is Advances in Design for Inclusion. It is an academic text, published by Springer, from the proceedings of the International Conference on Design for Inclusion held in Washington DC in July 2019. The chapters are diverse and specific. For example, yacht design; automated vending machines; prisons; parking meters; garden objects; housing; city maps, built environment and much more. Chapters can be purchased separately if you don’t have institutional access.
Design-for-All / Universal Design studies are often discussed from a theoretic point of view or from a user participation standpoint. Few studies look at the practical tools architects could use to help them apply the principles of inclusive design.
A literature review from Europe sought to identify how to transfer design information to architects so that they could do more than just comply with access standards. Four criteria for translating user needs into design strategies were found. These will be developed into a tool in the next stage of the research. See the full paper for the criteria which are also neatly shown in a graphic above.
Note that Design-for-All (DfA) is mostly used in Europe, Inclusive Design in UK, and Universal Design elsewhere. As they are all based around the same ideas, the terms are used interchangeably. The term universal design is in the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability. This Convention came into being after the other terms were well established.
What is the optimal classroom environment for students? Why not ask them? Designing Classrooms for Learning reports on a project that included student opinions about classroom design for learning about science. The project included a survey where students compared their “ideal” design with current design.
The study concludes that lighting, desk layout, places to put belongings and the layout of materials in the classroom all have an effect on student learning. “Student morale and learning can be affected greatly by the physical structure of the classroom, and that the involvement of students in the environment creating process can increase their motivation as well as empower them and develop a sense of community”.
According to the findings, something as simple as desk layout can make a big difference. Most teachers of adults have known this for some time. They take the time to rearrange rows of previously aligned tables and chairs into circular layout or into small group layout.
Given that every student learns differently, instructors need to provide multiple avenues for learning. This links with the theory of humans having different intelligences. You can read more on education, learning and universal design for learning, on this website.
What can you do to improve compliance with disability access standards when they are misunderstood, seen as too hard to implement, and where buildings are in a serious state of disrepair? This was the challenge set by Australia’s overseas aid program in Sri Lanka. The aim of this project was to find a way to educate built environment professionals in Sri Lanka about complying with disability access regulations. Rather than take a text book approach to explaining the standards, the training group decided to take a universal design approach. That meant focusing on the reasons why certain designs were needed, not just the need to apply the standard.
In her paper on this project, Penny Galbraith details the particular issues Sri Lanka faces. Major heritage sites, assets in complete disrepair, obsolete infrastructure, and transport conveyance designs from previous centuries all contribute to the complexities. “Universal design was the ideal starting point, not least because of its emphasis on users, but also that it allows for acknowledging and embracing cultural factors which is very important given ethnic tension in Sri Lanka”.
Inclusion is everybody’s business. By definition it isn’t a fringe activity. Inclusion requires everyone to be involved. In the built environment that means people involved in commissioning places and spaces as well as the trades and certifiers. So it goes beyond access codes and leaving it to access consultants. To help, the Design Council has a free interactive online Inclusive Environments CPD training course. It is about raising awareness of population diversity and why we should be designing more fairly and sustainably. There is also a searchable resource hub that has relevant information and discussion on this subject.
What happens if architecture, interior design, engineering and product design students spend a week together to investigate the design of the built environment? The answer is in a paper by Anne Britt Torkildsby. A week of critical design workshops provoked reflection, awareness, empathy and action among the next generation of designers involved in the built environment. By turning design upside down and deliberately creating designs that were impossible or difficult to use, the students learned to take multiple perspectives. The paper provides details of the workshops and the processes, and the outcomes for the students and their designs. The picture shows four of the designs discussed in the article.
Editor’s note: I liked the narrow doorway with a sticky floor that made entry difficult. The designs went on exhibition and others could experience first hand the difficulties and frustration people with different disabilities might have with a design.
A new study found that students are happy to use captions when learning new information. By testing two groups the researchers found a significant improvement in outcomes by those who had videos with captions vs. videos without captions. Instructors are encouraged to either source educational videos with captions already embedded, or get help from their institution to do it. Or even better, learn how to caption their own instructional videos. The title of the article is, Captioning Online Course Videos: An Investigation into Knowledge Retention and Student Perception.
Access the article via ResearchGate and request a copy of the paper. With more teaching and learning happening online, this is one technique that can benefit all. Captions are not just for people who are hard of hearing.
A similar study on the benefits of closed captions for learning was carried out by Oregon State University. They surveyed more than 2000 students in 15 institutions and found more than half said captions help by improving comprehension. The most common reasons for using captions were: to help them focus, retain information and overcome poor audio quality of the videos. Transcripts are often used as study guides and to find and retain information.
Although architects might propose universal design principles in designs, it seems that Australia is not the only country where clients are ambivalent at best and resistant at worst in terms of inclusive thinking. In Clients’ Approach to Universal Design – A Slow Change? Sidse Grangaard of the Danish Building Research Institute reports on the research into why clients are not interested in going beyond basic building regulations. It would seem the design and construction industries share much in common across the globe. A useful research project. The full paperis available from the link.
Abstract: When new buildings do not comply with the accessibility requirements of the Danish Building Regulations, the main reason is often attributed to a lack of knowledge and prioritization. It is the experience of architectural firms that clients decide their own focus on accessibility during the design process, and also whether the level of accessibility should be higher than that stipulated in the Danish Building Regulations. Post-occupancy evaluations point out that when the client is particularly conscious of, or ambitious about, accessibility/Universal Design (UD), the result is a building with an extensive level of accessibility. Thus, the client is a key figure for the project and the level of ambition. Based on interviews with 15 Danish clients, this paper presents a characterisation of their conception of Universal Design. It is significant that, as a concept, UD has not gained currency among the clients that let their ambition level be defined by the Danish Building Regulations. In order to capture differences between clients, a description of the client’s conception of users and designs is based on an analytical framework about the concepts of particular, universal, market and equality. The analysis shows that three conceptions about accessibility/UD can be characterized among the clients: 1) accessibility by design, 2) broad accessibility 3) added value. Above all, the findings show that a development is going on towards UD, although slowly.
The article is from the proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.
The philosophical perspective of this paper could be applied in other areas of life, not just higher education. Benjamin Ostiguy applies the concept of “Deep Ecology” to argue that everyone and everything has an intrinsic value, but that many societies only measure value by how it contributes to the economy. Students with disability are still considered as “outliers” and as persons who must “transcend” their perceived impairments if they are to belong. Ostiguy argues that valuing disability can lead to the “identification of novel veins of inquiry, bolster critical analyses, and help facilitate meaningful change in uncertain times”. The title of the paper is, The Inherent Value of Disability in Higher Education. 10 points to consider based on Deep Ecology thinking are: 1. Employ accessible and inclusive pedagogies, methods, technologies, and research instruments; 2. Avoid adherence to rigid standards and traditional practices absent of “intrinsic value” or unrelated to “fundamental goals”; 3. Before adopting a new or trendy technology, method, or instrument, first consider if SWDs will find it accessible and inclusive; 4. Recognize and value the diverse identities, perspectives, strengths, and challenges represented among college SWDs; cultivate an awareness of intersectional oppressions (e.g., ableism and homophobia); 5. Understand that SWDs are a heterogeneous demographic with identities, priorities, expectations, opinions, and access requirements differing within and among specific disability “types”. Note that perspectives on disability vary and evolve, so what is deemed appropriate or supportive may/will vary by generation, culture/ethnicity (e.g., international students), and social/historical context; 6. Employ the concept of universal design in all aspects of your work, including teaching, assessment, research, and service; 7. Develop research questions that account for SWDs and accurately represent/address their perspectives, needs, and sense of dignity; 8. When faced with apparent pedagogic/epistemological dilemmas, err on the side of accessibility and inclusion; 9. Speak out against campus policies, procedures, and traditions that are not universally inclusive, or otherwise stigmatize SWDs; 10. Reject the idea that a student’s value to a campus or academic discipline is proportional with their apparent potential to contribute toward the economy and the upward distribution of wealth.
Abstract: Evidence suggests that college students with disabilities (SWDs) continue to encounter attitudinal and physical barriers while institutions endeavor to offer reasonable supports—mainly in the form of accommodations and modifications. In practice, disability is largely treated as something external and ancillary, with most colleges administering measured allowances, but otherwise managing to avoid change. However, as we proceed into the 21st century, very little seems assured, least of all the status quo. Under the dominant neoliberal regime, virtually everything and everyone is valued in proportion with their perceived economic utility. No longer is higher education widely embraced as a public good. Instead, there is increased scrutiny of the academe with an eye for “value added”, and the returns students can expect with regard to careers and earning potential. Viewed through this narrow hegemonic lens, SWDs must assimilate or transcend their perceived impairments if they are to belong. In this commentary, I introduce key concepts from the environmental philosophy/theory of Deep Ecology to the scholarship of disability in higher education and assert that disability in academe has an “intrinsic value”, irrespective of expected economic utility. I conclude by discussing ways that the deep valuing of disability can lead to the identification of novel veins of inquiry, bolster critical analyses, and help facilitate meaningful change in uncertain times.
Evastina Bjork from the Nordic School of Public Health discusses the concept of UD from the perspective of health and wellnessin this article. She traces the work done in Norway that precedes the landmark document, “Norway Universally Designed 2025” and how it relates to health benefits. Training courses in applying the concepts of UD for professionals were devised and continue to be revised and adapted to keep pace with new learning and updated evidence. Although an academic paper, the discussion about education and training, and application of UD in the health and wellness field is a refreshing perspective.