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“.

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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.

 

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7 Principles of universal design

ron_maceThe seven principles of universal design were devised in the mid nineties, but still hold today. They remain a good reference point or framework for designing any building, open space, product, phone app, or document. They were developed by a working group of architects, product designers, engineers and environmental design researchers led by the late Ron Mace (pictured).

A good example of explaining the principles can be found on the website of the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland. Briefly the principles are:

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive to Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

An update to this list was published in 2012 by Steinfeld and Maisel as the 8 Goals of Universal Design. They are more action based than the principles, and include cultural inclusion.

In 2006 Steinfeld and Danford also ‘crosswalked’ the principles to the ICF – a handy reference for academics utilising the ICF for activities and participation.

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What is Universal Design?

Picture of Berrigan Library Building“Universal Design is the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability. An environment (or any building, product, or service in that environment) should be designed to meet the needs of all people who wish to use it. This is not a special requirement, for the benefit of only a minority of the population. It is a fundamental condition of good design. If an environment is accessible, usable, convenient and a pleasure to use, everyone benefits. By considering the diverse needs and abilities of all throughout the design process, universal design creates products, services and environments that meet peoples’ needs. Simply put, universal design is good design” (from the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design) .

“UD is an increasingly important feature of nations states seeking to develop a fairer society for people unable to access and use, with ease, the designed environment. It is based on the premise that the design of products and environments ought to ‘be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design’ (Mace, 1988: 1).” (From Universalising Design website)

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