Introduction to Universal Design Launched

Title of course: introduction to universal design, yellow and orange blurred coloured background with dark blue text.At the Access Consultants Conference in Brisbane last week, I had the pleasure of announcing CUDA’s first online course: Introduction to Universal Design. This free course is aimed at people who have heard of universal design but not sure what it is or how it can be implemented. Of course, anyone can sign up and go through the steps. You don’t have to do it in one sitting. There is a certificate of completion at the end. Briefly, the topics are the seven principles and eight goals, diversity and stereotyping. It concludes with an overview of how it can be applied in the built environment, to products and to technology. There are captioned videos to watch and quizzes to complete. Depending on your prior knowledge it should take between one to two hours to complete Introduction to Universal DesignWhy not give it a go?

We are happy to receive feedback on the course and suggestions for improvement. Also, we would like to know what topics you would like us to develop for online courses, or there might be a topic you would like to contribute to.

Jane Bringolf, Chair, Centre for Universal Design Australia


Say it, write it, and post it with universal design

Front cover of the toolkit with three overlapping circles, bright pink, purple and turquoise.The Customer Communications Toolkit for the Public Service – A Universal Design Approach has sections on written, verbal and digital communication. At 134 pages it is comprehensive. Each section has examples, tips, checklists and links to learn more. The intention of the toolkit is for public service planning, training and informing contractors. But of course, it works for anyone who is communicating with the public. The toolkit follows its own advice in presenting this written information in a straightforward way. Lots of graphics illustrate key points, and the information is very specific, such as when to write numbers as digits or as words. While some of the information might not be new to some, it serves as a good reviser of current practice.

Another great resource from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. Interesting to note that they have chosen colours for the cover and their logo that almost everyone can see – that includes people with colour vision deficiency.


Learning about dementia and design

logo of Alzheimer's Australia learning program. It is a black owl figure with blue eyesAlzheimer’s Australia has some great learning programs for all aspects of living with, and designing for, dementia. The Virtual Dementia Experience provides a simulated experience that provides insights into what it is like to live with memory loss and cognitive changes. Although it was initially designed for aged care workers, it’s helpful for anyone with a connection to dementia or wanting to better understand the condition for design purposes. Alzheimer’s Australia run sessions across Australia and you can book online.

There are also some practical online modules you can do at your own pace. The first is free to see if it what you are looking for, and the subsequent modules are modestly priced at $25 each. They cover communicating, a person-centered practice, and a problem solving approach. Mostly aimed at allied health professionals, but could be useful for designers wanting to get a real feel for the topic.

More specifically for environments you can download Enabling Environments, and a great app for tablets and smartphones for the Dementia Friendly Home. The Resources tab on the website provides more on these topics.


7 things the autistic person needs in the workplace

A wheel diagram shaded with the seven colours of the rainbow Ashlea McKay wrote an interesting article on Linked In, 7 things the autistic person in your workplace needs from you“. Ashlea was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) aged 29, but she prefers to refer to herself as an autistic person – “I am autistic” she says, and she explains why. She discusses the difficulties of being stereotyped and how small adjustments in the workplace can increase her productivity so that everyone can benefit from having someone with a brain that thinks differently to most others.

As no two people who are autistic or diagnosed with ASD are alike, the key is to ask the person what they need to function well in the workplace. Acceptance and appreciation of their sometimes amazing thinking processes is probably the first step. The diagram relates to how Ashlea thinks autism looks – not a spectrum indicating a linear continuum – but a circular spectrum where all aspects are linked.


Architecture students’ attitudes to UD

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThe attitudes of architecture students to universal design is the focus of a Deakin University study. It builds on previous work (Design 4 Diversity) in 2010 on inter-professional learning for architecture and occupational therapy students. The findings of this latest study show that while architecture students viewed access to public environments favourably, there was a mixed response in relation to private homes.

Reasons not to include universal design features in homes included cost, client desires and restrictions on creativity. For example, “Over-designing for the sake of making the residence accessible in the future, just in case, is an unnecessary cost”; “Private homes should be designed to the individual”; and “Legislation restricts design, resulting in negative impacts the ‘requirements’ did not intend”. (Ed Note: These phrases have been used many times by practicing architects and designers as followers of UD are aware.)

The study used a quantitative approach and applied statistical techniques to the data. The first part of the document covers the history of universal design (as all such studies do) and there is an extended section on methods and statistics. For followers of UD, the Discussion section might be of most interest. 

The authors of Students’ Attitudes to Universal Design in Architecture Education, are Helen Larkin, Kelsey Dell, and Danielle Hitch. It was published in the Journal of Social Inclusion, 2016.

See also previous work by Larkin et al, on this topic, and the 2016 UD Conference presentation by Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford, “Moving from the Margins: Embedding inclusive thinking in design education” 


DeafSpace design works for everyone

shows people in a circle using their fingers to connect to each other to form a circleHere is a video (below) from an American university about designing for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. It shows the importance of thinking through how deaf people need to see everything that is going on, including people they are communicating with. Once again, considering a marginalised group in designs enhances the environment for everyone.

On a related matter, Andrew Stewart from Printacall has done some great research on eligibility for the NDIS for people who have hearing loss, and produced a detailed document that answers just about any question on the matter. 

For more on DeafSpace design and concepts go to the Gallaudet University website.




Survey of architects on UD education and implementation

architecture blueprint with rule and pencilThis paper reports on a survey of architects, architecture educators, and architectural technologists in Ireland to find out how they are dealing with the implementation of universal design principles. The researchers (Eoghan C.O. Shea, Megan Basnak, Merritt Bucholz, & Edward Steinfeld) sought to address the following questions in the survey:

1. How inherent is Universal Design knowledge to current building design practice?

2. What are the current Universal Design education and training needs of Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

3. Which Universal Design themes and topics are of most interest to Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

4. To what extent does existing CPD for Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland address Universal Design topics?

5. What can motivate Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland to access Universal Design CPD?

6. What are the most effective means by which to deliver Universal Design CPD to Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland?

The survey is one phase of a longer study aimed at providing a research base for developing CPD in Universal Design for Architects and Architectural Technologists practising in Ireland.


UD in Higher Education

view of university of seville library with students sitting at desks. bookcases are in the backgroundWhile inclusive education at all levels is written into policy documents, strategies for implementation are sometimes few and far between. Barriers in many forms still confront students with disability in educational settings, whether it be the built environment, attitudes of staff and other students, or the design of the curriculum. 

The main the main objective of this paper, Inclusive University Classrooms: the importance of faculty training is to identity, describe and explain barriers and aids related to faculty that students with disabilities experience in classrooms. The paper is by a cross-disciplinary group from the University of Seville in Spain. Reference is made to the work by Australians Valerie Watchorn and Helen Larkin on this topic. It is interesting to note the recent frequency of articles by Spanish authors appearing in the literature on different aspects of universal design.

The picture is of the library at University of Seville.


Design knows no bounds

Front cover of The Routledge Companion to Design StudiesPenelope Dean discusses how boundaries among various fields of design emerge, what they do, and how they behave, and then proceeds to argue that there are no real boundaries, only discipline based notions of boundaries. She takes six perspectives including, how they erupt from within, how they are extrapolated, and how they evolve from shared principles. She concludes by saying: “Design is no longer the sole property of disciplines or professions… [d]esign is now public domain appropriable by anyone.” She goes on to say that we all have the freedom to design and “rethink how we choose and designate new worlds.” Isn’t that what universal design is all about?

Penelope Dean’s chapter, Free for All, can be found in The Routledge Companion to Design Studies, edited by Penny Sparke and Fiona Fisher and available from Google Books. Also available from Amazon.

Part IV of the book includes chapters on socially inclusive design, and socially responsive design among others. You can download the Table of Contents from Amazon. 

Penelope Dean is Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she teaches, theory, history and design, and serves as coordinator for the Masters of Arts in Design Criticism program. Her research and writings focus on contemporary architectural culture with a particular emphasis on recent exchanges between architecture and allied design fields.


Architecture student attitudes

Faculty of Architecture University at Buffalo State University of New YorkOne way of encouraging and increasing the uptake of universal design strategies, is the provision of education and training during the important and influential years of professional education. This is probably one of the first studies of its type in the area of how introducing students to the principles of universal design can have a positive effect on attitudes towards people with disability.

Published in the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All, the authors, Hitch, Dell and Larkin from Deakin University, also review some of the related literature. The title of the article is, Does Universal Design Education Impact on the Attitudes of Architecture Students Towards People with Disability? 

From the Abstract: The aim of this study was to investigate the attitudes of architecture students towards people with a disability, comparing those who received inter-professional universal design education with those who had not. Architecture students who had previously participated in inter-professional universal design education had significantly less negative attitudes. This study suggests education around universal design may promote more positive attitudes towards people with a disability for architecture students.

Editor’s Note: Nicholas Loder and Lisa Stafford presented their paper,“Moving from the Margins: Embedding inclusive thinking in design education” at the UD Conference. Janice Reiger’s paper is in a similar vein using the case studies of museums in Europe and Canada.