The Real Meaning of Inclusive Design

Jeremy_Myerson.head and shoulders shot. He is wearing glassesThe Co-Founder and Director of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, Jeremy Myerson, is asked questions about inclusive design and how it can be achieved in this article from Metropolis Magazine. He stresses that it is a shift in design thinking and the way designers are taught as well as moving away from a legislative approach. In the article’s concluding paragraph Myerson says:

“The bigger challenge is adapting to a more democratic, participatory approach, rather than being the top-down experts. Industrial designers have taken to it extremely well, but architects are struggling. There was a fantastic project by students at the Royal College of Art who rethought the little figures on architectural models. So there was the pregnant mom with the cigarettes, the teenage mother, the drunk, the violent football hooligan—all these social outcasts. They were trying to make architects think about real people in real social scenarios. That’s what inclusive design is about. It’s not just including people in the built environment or the use of products, it’s including people in the process.”

Logo for the Helen Hamlyn Centre: purple upper caseThe Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at London’s Royal College of Art is a major research centre for inclusive design focusing on: Age and Ability, Health Care, and Work and city. In this magazine article Jeremy Myerson responds to the interviewer’s questions:

  • How far have we come
  • Are we finally moving away from a legislation-based model?
  • What are some of the tools you’ve used to make inclusive design more participatory?
  • What else has changed in how we think about accessibility
  • How should we be addressing cognitive disabilities?
  • How much can we expect industry to take on in terms of inclusive design?
  • How does it translate to public policy and the urban realm – the things that are not in the hands of corporations?
  • If we had to think of a new disability discrimination act, what would be some of the key considerations?

8 Goals of universal design

Logo for the IDeA Center at BuffaloThe Seven Principles of Universal Design (NCSU, 1997) are well known in the universal design fraternity and have been used as a baseline for designing a range of goods, services and policies across the world. The IDeA Center at the University at Buffalo has taken these principles and expanded them to focus on social participation and health. Complementing the Principles of Universal Design, the Goals of Universal Design© define the outcomes of UD practice in ways that can be measured and applied to all design domains within the constraints of existing resources. Briefly, the Goals are:

  1. Body FitEd Steinfeld holding his book next to his face.
  2. Comfort
  3. Awareness
  4. Understanding
  5. Wellness
  6. Social integration
  7. Personalization
  8. Cultural appropriateness

The IDeA website adds that “they encompass functional, social, and emotional dimensions. Moreover, each goal is supported by an interdisciplinary knowledge base (e.g., anthropometrics, biomechanics, perception, cognition, safety, health promotion, social interaction). Thus, the Goals can be used effectively as a framework for both knowledge discovery and knowledge translation for practice. Moreover, the Goals can help to tie policy embodied in disability rights laws to UD and provide a basis for improving regulatory activities by adoption of an outcomes-based approach.”

Ed Steinfeld writes more on universal design generally and the eight goals, in an article published in Modern Health Talk in 2014 as a lead up to the publication of his book written with Jordana Maisel, Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments.

The goals were devised by Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012 ©


Universal Design from the perspective of Mace

ron_maceRon Mace is often attributed the title of “Father of Universal Design” and is recognised as the founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University. However, little is actually written about him and the groundbreaking work he achieved. Jacob Aronoff’s dissertation, “Catering to All: Disability and Universal Design in the Built Environment” begins with a well researched history of Mace’s work and then uses the subways of New York, London and Tokyo as case studies. In using Mace’s perspective and understanding, Aronoff provides an easy to read story of universal design, its dissemination, acceptance, and its applications.

Here is a quote from the latter part of Aronoff’s dissertation:  “I initially thought of Mace as a purely radical figure. While I have realized that Mace is more measured than I originally anticipated, I believe the case can still be made, that he made a revolutionary transformation in the understanding the disparate approaches to disability and humanity within the Urban Environment. Compared to the world in which Mace was born, there has been tremendous progress, but it was Mace himself, who helped to radicalize the process in developing Universal Design.”

For those who have been following UD this is a good reminder of where universal design has come from, including the work of Selwyn Goldsmith. For those who are new to the ideas, it provides a context for current and future work. Download the dissertation here. 


Introduction to GAATES

GAATES logoThe Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) is keen to support the concepts and principles of universal design. This Canadian based NGO has a comprehensive website with resources relating to the built environment, ICT, transportation, tourism, disaster management, and conferences.  The GAATES about us section describes their vision:

“A comprehensive implementation of Universal Design principles takes everyone into account and results in fully inclusive and sustainable environments.  Implementing the principles of Universal Design is the sustainable approach to designing for everyone as it equitably addresses the full life span of individuals as well as environments. This approach is quickly replacing the limited scope and vision of accessible and barrier-free design. Mainstreaming education about Universal Design rather than relying on codes and standards about accessible design, is the only way we will truly achieve an environment usable by all – without adaptation.

Universal Design and Accessibility do not exist in a vacuum, they are inter-dependent upon a number of factors; Education by designers and developers; Development of best practices criteria for Built Environment, ICTs, Transportation, Tourism, etc.; Legislation, Standards and policy that recognize the important of Universal Design; and Universal Design adaption of all facilities and services.

GAATES promotes this comprehensive and inclusive approach, and our unique multidisciplinary, multi-cultural, multi-regional membership assures a global vision in all our projects and solutions.


Why UD is not just access

Xinos Normals imageGeorge Xinos continues his UD theme in this article in Sourceable. He gives a potted history of UD, lists the seven principles and then argues, as do many, that the building industry has chosen to interpret UD as compliance with accessibility regulations and not taken up the design challenge of inclusion in a broader sense. The image chosen in this article is from the video published by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland, called “Meet The Normals – Adventures in Universal Design“.


Universal Design: Is it Accessible?

This opinion piece by Jane Bringolf published by Multi:The RIT Journal of Plurality and Diversity in Design was written in 2008, but is still relevant. 

Abstract: Designing products and environments to be usable by the majority of people is the underpinning concept of universal design. In some aspects, however, universal design fails to meet some of its own principles. This has resulted in a lack of understanding of the concept, which in turn, has allowed the terms “accessibility” and “disability” to inhabit the language of universal design. This means universal design is now bounded by concepts of accessibility, regulations and disability rights, rather than the intellectual challenges inherent in designing for the whole of the population bell curve. The universal design movement recognizes that making headway is proving difficult and is seeking ways to improve its position. Market research, however, indicates universal design is now branded as a disability product and this has implications for consumers, practitioners, and for the universal design movement in general. Discussed are the influence of terminology on the direction and perceptions of universal design, and the dilemmas of applying a regulatory framework as an implementation strategy.