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.

 

Issues with ICF-based cost-effectiveness analyses of AT

This slideshow presentation by Dr Ingrid Schraner discusses the pitfalls of applying standard economic modelling to the intricacies of everyday life for a person with a disability.  Using the WHO ICF1 domains of “activities and participation” Dr Schraner poses an alternative to the standard cost-utility and cost-benefit analyses. Her method of analysis can be applied to both assistive technology and universal design. The presentation requires some knowledge of the WHO ICF.

This presentation was made at the AAATE2 Conference held September 2008 in Milan, Italy.  

1International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health

2Association for the Advancement of Assistive Technology Europe

10 Things to know about Universal Design

The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has developed a comprehensive list that covers all the myths and misinformation about the purpose of universal design. Briefly, it covers:

1: Universal Design strives to improve the original design concept by making it more inclusive

2: Universally Designed products can have a high aesthetic value

3: Universal Design is much more than just a new design trend

4: Universal Design does not aim to replace the design of products targeted at specific markets

5: Universal Design is not a synonym for compliance with accessible design standards

6: Universal Design benefits more people than older people and people with disabilities

7: Universal Design can be undertaken by any designer, not just the specialists

8: Universal Design should be integrated throughout the design process

9: Universal Design is not just about ‘one size fits all’

10: A Universally Designed product is the goal: Universal Design is the process

See more detail about 10 Things to know about Universal Design

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.