Learning about Standards and Universal Design

view from the back of a university lecture theatre where students are seated listening to a lecture.It is assumed that students in design disciplines, such as engineering, automatically learn about standards and how they are developed. According to an article by Jenny Darzentas this is not the case. The way standards are developed and written makes them difficult to understand and apply. Too much emphasis is placed on “learning on the job”. Darzentas says that “education about standardisation would be beneficial in Universal Design courses for design students … especially in Europe and North America. This is in contrast to countries such as Japan, Korea and China (JKC) where courses on standardisation education are routinely found in their universities”. The title of the article is “Educating Students About Standardisation Relating to Universal Design”.

Access to standards documents is not usually discussed as a barrier to accessibility and universal design, but this article draws attention to the need for people not only access the documents easily, but also those documents should provide information in a way that is easy to access. An argument for standards to follow the concepts of universal design?

Abstract: Standardisation education is rarely taught to students in the design disciplines in academic settings, and consequently there is not much evidence about best practices. This paper examines this situation, and elaborates on some of the possible reasons for this situation. Further, it gives an example of how students may be instructed and encouraged to further their interests in standards and the standardization-making process as a means for increasing Universal Design in practice.

This article comes from the published papers from the 2016 Universal Design Conference held in York, UK, which are open access.


Social factors and accessibility

a man stands in front of a wall covered in bright coloured post it notes which have different ideas and actionsAs our world becomes increasingly digitised, it’s important to ensure that no-one is left behind. However, it seems that influencing designers’ actual practice remains challenging. Design for Social Accessibility is an approach that encourages designers to focus on social as well as functional factors in their design. Researchers from Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Washington used workshops and brainstorming with designers to bring about a change in their attitudes, and to see the effectiveness of the Design for Social Accessibility approach. Their article, Incorporating Social Factors in Accessible Design, is lengthy because it includes quotes from workshop participants and is very thorough in its reporting. They conclude, “Accessible design is not an impossible challenge; instead, is within reach for professional designers, if given appropriate tools and resources. We offer Design for Social Accessibility as one such tool that designers can use to include disabled and non-disabled users and complex social and functional consideration toward accessible solutions. Designing technologies for people with disability does not exclude non-disabled people. The focus of this study is on people with vision impairment. Social accessibility relates to the social factors of using a device or product not just functional aspects.

Abstract: Personal technologies are rarely designed to be accessible to disabled people, partly due to the perceived challenge of including disability in design. Through design workshops, we addressed this challenge by infusing user-centered design activities with Design for Social Accessibility—a perspective emphasizing social aspects of accessibility—to investigate how professional designers can leverage social
factors to include accessibility in design. We focused on how professional designers incorporated Design for Social Accessibility’s three tenets: (1) to work with users with and without visual impairments; (2) to consider social and functional factors; (3) to employ tools—a framework and method cards—to raise awareness and prompt reflection on social aspects toward accessible design. We then interviewed designers about their workshop experiences. We found DSA to be an effective set of tools and strategies incorporating social/functional and non/disabled perspectives that helped designers create accessible design.


Built environment education in universal design

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the roomTraining and education in universal design for built environment professionals seems to have, ironically, some barriers to uptake and then implementation. Two open access articles address this issue: Universal Design Teaching in Architectural Education, and Planning – Design Training and Universal Design. The first article discusses a model for UD teaching in architecture schools and presents ideas for setting up UD courses. The second article argues that universal design concepts should be incorporated into all departments that offer planning and design training. Proposals for solutions are suggested for inclusion in higher education study programs. 

It is difficult to promote universal design education when educational institutions are unaware of the need for inclusive planning and design of the campus, or the application of principles of universal design for learning in teaching programs. Advocating for UD in learning programs is made all the more difficult if higher education institutions do not have policies that are inclusive of learning for all.  


Engineering diversity and inclusion

Two men in hard hats are crouching on a large concrete floor.they look like they are discussing something.The American Society of Civil Engineers has acknowledged that they have work to do on diversity and inclusion within their ranks and the people for whom they design solutions. While the focus of the Special Collection Announcement publication is about educating engineers, it is interesting to see that they are taking the matter seriously and introducing a new section to their Code of Ethics. At the end of the Announcement they lament that there were no articles submitted about disability or socio-economic status and that this needs to be addressed in the future so that all aspects of diversity are discussed. You can see all abstracts to papers in this collection by going to the journal’s library link. 


Designing inclusively with emotional intelligence

Patricia Moore sits on a park bench looking in her handbag. She has a walking cane and is wearing a black hat an blue overcoat. She looks like she is 80 years old but she is 27.Patricia Moore is well-known to those who have followed the fortunes of universal design for some time. She was the researcher who dressed and behaved as an 80 year old woman and found first hand the discriminatory treatment older people face every day in the built environment and socially. Her latest article with Jörn Bühring asks designers and business leaders to use social and emotional intelligence in their designs. They claim the philosophic challenge is to ask “Why not?” rather than “Why?” 

“Designers don’t speak of limitations, instead they tend to focus on possibilities. The emergence of ’inclusivity’ in design supports the conviction that where there is a ’deficit’, we will present a solution. “Where there is ignorance, we will strive for enlightenment. Where there is a roadblock, we will create a pathway”.

Cite paper as: Bühring, J., Moore, P., (2018). Emotional and Social Intelligence as ’Magic Key’ in Innovation: A Designer’s call toward inclusivity for all – Letter From Academia, Journal of Innovation Management, www.openjim.org,
6(2), 6-12.


Guide for Public Interest Design

Cover of publication showing various people in design situationsFor anyone involved in educating and training upcoming designers, this academic guide could be of interest. It has three main parts: Public Interest Design Curricula; Educating the Public Interest Designer; and SEED Academic Case Studies. In the Foreword, “Can Public Interest in Design be Taught?” Rahul Mehrotra reminds us that drawings alone are no longer adequate for communicating design intent – other means are required as well. The primary role of the book is to challenge educational practitioners to educate students who might become alternative practitioners and design for public interest. “These practitioners enter into a potentially more fulfilling relationship with the site, its history, the community of users whose needs they address, and the members of the workforce who are their collaborators”. Public Interest Design Education Guidebook: Curricula, Strategies, and SEED Academic Case Studies, presents a framework necessary to teach public interest designers. There are contributions from a range of authors covering all aspects of design education.

This is an update on the earlier 2016 edition of the Guidebook. SEED is the acronym for “Social Economic Environmental Design”.


Universal Design for non-designers

overhead view of a table with several laptops open. One person is handing another a documentThe concept of universal design is not the sole responsibility of people who consider themselves a designer. Universal design and inclusive practice involves everyone regardless whether they are a trained designer, a policy writer, an academic, a dancer or a carpenter. It’s difficult enough to appeal to trained designers to think inclusion throughout their design process, let alone getting non-designers on board with this concept. A group in China is looking at ways to reach out to non-designers for a cross-disciplinary approach to universal design education. Their paper, A Strategy on Introducing Inclusive Design Philosophy to Non-design Background Undergraduates, focuses on how to integrate design in what they term, crossover education, with non-design students. You will need institutional access to SpringerLink for a free read.  If not, try the Google Books link for a few more pages.

Abstract: Focusing on how to integrating design into crossover-education, which is a controversial topic in china’s education. And in china, all china’s colleges and universities are trying their best to set up crossover education. Cause firstly they all think that it is vital important for the college students to broaden their horizon, secondly, more and more projects need diverse and professional genius to cooperate to be finished. They need to know the design thinking. But the problem is coming, differing from design-major background students, how to make design curriculum transforming a better and easier way to accept and assimilate by the other background students. How to cultivate the design thinking in crossover education, I think, which is the most things we as educator need to concentrate. This paper focuses on how to introduce inclusive design philosophy to non-design background undergraduates. This is one of the parts of a research project “Applied universities’ design education reform and practice based on the principle of inclusive design” supported by the Shanghai Education Science Research Program (Grant No. C17067).


AI for captioning

A speaker stands at a lectern and captioning sceen is behind his right shoulderArtificial Intelligence (AI) can take captioning to another level claims Microsoft. AI for automatic speech recognition removes the need for a human captioner for lectures in universities, and elsewhere. The Microsoft AI blog article and video below focuses on deaf students, but as more people take to captioning on their phones, it could make like easier for everyone. We already know that captioning helps all students by adding another layer of communication and this point is made in the article. The captioning is turned into transcripts and students have a reference to read after the lecture. They can also have the lecture automatically translated into several languages. This is a detailed article and covers automatic speech recognition, translations, and a growing demand for accessibility. This technology is not expected to take over from Auslan or ASL as they are languages in their own right. However, this is another example of how technology is helping humans by taking over from humans and bringing the advantages to more people.  



Making PDF Documents Accessible

graphic of a page with PDF on it red and whiteWhy is a Word document often preferred by some readers over a PDF document? They are more accessible for more people. Not everyone can see well; can use a mouse, can read English well, can remain focused easily when they read, and not everyone uses assistive technology. And not all PDF documents can be read by screen readers. In a slideshare Tammy Stitz explains some of the issues and solutions. She covers some of the technicalities as well as basics such as colour contrast, reading order and Alternative Text (alt-t). Logical structure, use of headings and placement and attributes of hyperlinks. The slideshare goes on to cover a list of things that need to be checked. Finally you can test the document using PDF Accessibility Checker. There is also such a thing as a PDF Association.  


An accessible campus is part of sustainability

Edifice of a federation stone building with arched entrance with step leading to it.Linking “sustainability” with universal design is not a new idea, especially when thinking about social sustainability. A new book,Towards Green Campus Operations, includes a chapter that moves away from “green” to social sustainability. The argument is that making the campus more universally accessible is a sustainability exercise. The more accessible the campus is, the more likely the students are to enroll and, more importantly, finish their course. This is good for the university and sustains their student intake and retention. The authors also argue that academics need to be educated about this issue too. The chapter, “Educational Institutions and Universal Accessibility: In Search of Sustainability on University Campus”, is available through Springer Link.

Abstract: The paper reports proposals and solutions of the design and implementation for universal accessibility at the university campus, complying with current legislation and community demands. It addresses the challenges of raising academic awareness about the subject and of the accessible route project overcoming the campus large dimensions, urbanized areas and rugged topography. It is the result of a project and an accessible route shared through pedestrian and motorized routes and with its implantation overcoming barriers in the implementation. The theme was conducted with a focus on social sustainability, as it is a requirement to obtain the universal and legitimate right to higher education and the benefits of the university campus as a community educational, environmental and leisure urban equipment. The results of the article demonstrate that universal accessibility, more than a legal requirement for educational institutions, contributes to social sustainability. The spatial adequacies allow the universalization of the possibility of entry and stay of persons with disabilities or reduced mobility in the university campus, expanding their training at an higher level.